James Grigson

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James Grigson
Born (1932-01-30)January 30, 1932
Texarkana, Texas, U.S.
Died June 3, 2004(2004-06-03) (aged 72)
Other names Doctor Death
Fields Forensic psychiatry
Known for Testifying expert for the prosecution in capital cases

James Grigson (January 30, 1932 – June 3, 2004),[1] called by parts of the press as "Doctor Death",[2][3][4] was a Texas forensic psychiatrist who testified in 167 capital trials, nearly all of which resulted in death sentences.[5]


In capital crime cases, Grigson, throughout his career, was typically a testifying expert for the prosecution. Under Texas law, for death to be imposed the jury must believe the defendant not only to be guilty of the crime charged, but certain to commit additional violent crimes if not put to death. In almost every case, Grigson testified (often after meeting the defendant for just a few minutes, or not at all)[4] that the defendant was an "incurable" sociopath who was "one hundred per cent certain" to kill again.[6]

The Randall Dale Adams case[edit]

One of the most notable, at least after the fact, appearances of Grigson in court occurred in the 1977 case of Randall Dale Adams, who was accused of murdering police officer Robert W. Wood. Adams was found guilty, and, on the basis of Grigson's testimony, was given the death penalty. Grigson told the jury that Adams would be an ongoing menace if kept alive.[7]

Adams' conviction was unanimously upheld by the Texas Appellate Court. His death sentence, as a result of a 1980 United States Supreme Court decision, was commuted to life in prison by Texas Governor Bill Clements.[8]

The case was profiled in the 1988 documentary film The Thin Blue Line.[9]

In 1989 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Adams[10] overturned Adams' conviction on the grounds of malfeasance by the prosecutor and inconsistencies in the testimony of a key witness.[11][12] The prosecution in Texas declined to go to a new trial, and Adams was eventually freed, after having spent approximately 12 years in prison.[13]

The Cameron Todd Willingham case[edit]

In 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of the capital murder of his three children due to arson. Grigson testified that Willingham was an incurable sociopath despite having never met him.[14] His testimony helped prosecutors secure the death penalty, but Willingham's guilt has since been called into question due to modern fire science[15][16] and a witness recantation.[17] Willingham was executed in 2004.


In 1995, Grigson was expelled by the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for unethical conduct.[4][18] The APA stated that Grigson had violated the organization's ethics code by "arriving at a psychiatric diagnosis without first having examined the individuals in question, and for indicating, while testifying in court as an expert witness, that he could predict with 100 per cent certainty that the individuals would engage in future violent acts". Grigson unsuccessfully sued the APA to block his expulsion.[4]

After Grigson's expulsion, the medical director of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law said that Grigson "oversteps the bounds of his professional competence" and that he was testifying in court about hypothetical situations containing insufficient detail for a sound professional opinion to be formed.[4]

Grigson officially retired from the psychiatric profession in 2003.[19]


Grigson died in June 2004 from lung cancer.[where?][1]


  1. ^ a b James Paul Grigson obituary, published in Dallas Morning News, June 6–7, 2004; uploaded by Legacy.com
  2. ^ "Law: They call him Dr. Death". Time. June 1981. 
  3. ^ Gillespie, Pat (June 14, 2004). "Expert psychiatric witness was nicknamed Dr. Death". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved March 21, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Bell, Laura (July 26, 1995). "Groups Expel Psychiatrist Known for Murder Cases; Witness nicknamed 'Dr. Death' says license won't be affected by allegations". Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Study: State relies too much on 'killer shrinks'". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 31, 2004. Retrieved March 11, 2008. 
  6. ^ Morris, Errol (February 2, 1989). "Predilections". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ Morris, Errol (February 2, 1989). "Predilections". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  8. ^ Martin, Douglas (June 25, 2011). "Randall Adams, 61, Dies; Freed With Help of Film". NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ "`Blue Line' inmate freed after 12 years". Chicago Tribune. March 22, 1989. Retrieved March 11, 2008. 
  10. ^ S.W.2d 281 (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 1989) (en banc).
  11. ^ Gross, Bruce (December 22, 2004). "Dangerous predictions: the case of Randall Dale Adams". American College of Forensic Examiners. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  12. ^ Tomaso, Bruce (July 5, 1989). "Possibilities beckon beyond `Thin Blue Line': Film maker hopes to capitalize on his documentary's acclaim". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  13. ^ Suro, Roberto (March 2, 1989). "CONVICTION VOIDED IN TEXAS MURDER". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  14. ^ "Death By Fire". Frontline. October 2010. 
  15. ^ "Gerald Hurst's 2004 Report". Frontline. February 2004. 
  16. ^ "Trial By Fire". The New Yorker. September 2009. 
  17. ^ "Fresh Doubts Over a Texas Execution". The Washington Post. August 2014. 
  18. ^ "Effect of "Dr. Death" and his testimony lingers". Houston Chronicle. June 27, 2004. 
  19. ^ "Texas 'Dr. Death' retires after 167 capital case trials", The Washington Times, December 20, 2003.