USA: Texas Governor must stop execution of Mexican man with mental disability

News
April 8, 2014

USA: Texas Governor must stop execution of Mexican man with mental disability

Texas Governor Rick Perry must stop Wednesday’s execution of Ramiro Hernández Llanas, a Mexican national with a mental disability, Amnesty International said today. 

The state has relied upon racial stereotyping and the views of discredited “expertise” to secure this death sentence – now due to be carried out shortly after 6pm, local time, on 9 April. 

After the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Ramiro Hernández Llanas on Monday, his final hope for mercy is a reprieve from the state governor. 

“This case cries out for Governor Perry to use his power of reprieve. He must recognise that the state has relied upon shoddy ‘expert’ testimony to get Ramiro Hernández Llanas to the death chamber,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on the USA. 

At the 2000 trial, the prosecution turned to the testimony of a discredited psychiatrist, Dr James Grigson, to rebut the opinions of mental health experts retained by the defence. Grigson, who had never examined the defendant, declared that Ramiro Hernández Llanas would likely commit future acts of criminal violence because he was a sociopath who lacked a conscience. Persuading the jury that the defendant will be a “future danger” to society, even in prison, is a prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas. 

“Testimony like Dr Grigson’s has been discredited over the years as ‘junk science’, and he himself was reprimanded and then expelled from the American Psychiatric Association because of his resort to such unscientific testimony in capital trials,” said Rob Freer. 

“Given what came next – psychiatric testimony tainted by racial stereotyping – this case stands out starkly as another Texas injustice about to be turned into permanence in the lethal injection chamber.” 

Another psychiatrist, Dr Richard Coons, was presented by the state at a 2008 hearing to rebut a defence expert’s finding that Ramiro Hernández Llanas has ‘mental retardation’ – which would render his execution illegal under a 2002 US Supreme Court ruling. 

Dr Coons never met the prisoner or anyone who knew him, does not speak Spanish, and claimed that the prisoner’s criminal conduct was appropriate for his “cultural group”. 

“It is a fundamental principle of international law that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to criminal proceedings free from racial or other discrimination,” said Rob Freer. 

“While we believe that the death penalty never equates with justice, surely even proponents of judicial killing should see the injustice of a death sentence secured after the presentation of such tainted testimony.” 

The Mexican government filed a brief in the US Supreme Court in January condemning the “defamatory stereotyping of the functional abilities of persons raised in Mr Hernandez’s low socio-economic, Mexican culture”. 

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, founded in 1876, together with The Arc of the United States, the USA’s largest community-based organization working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, also urged the Court to intervene. It refused to do so. 

Last week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued “precautionary measures”, calling on the USA not to go ahead with the execution so that the Commission could have time to consider a petition before it. Today, the Commission stressed that for the USA to allow the execution to go ahead in these circumstances would “seriously contravenes its international legal obligations”. 

“Texas is no stranger to injustice when it comes to the death penalty,” said Rob Freer. 

“Here it is again, about to carry out a death sentence secured with highly questionable testimony against someone whose mental disability calls the constitutionality of his execution into serious question. Governor Perry must act as a matter of urgency.” 

Background information 

Ramiro Hernández Llanas was sentenced to death in February 2000 for the murder of his employer, Glen Lich, who was bludgeoned to death at his ranch in Kerr County on 14 October 1997. 

Ramiro Hernández Llanas was born into a childhood of abuse and severe poverty in Mexico, with his family living in a cardboard shack next to a rubbish dump on which they would scavenge. In tests conducted over the past decade, Ramiro Hernández Llanas has been assessed as having an IQ in the 50s or 60s. He suffers from severe adaptive functioning deficits across a range of skill areas including linguistic, academic, conceptual, social, work and domestic. 

There have been 15 executions in the USA this year, five of them in Texas. Since judicial killing resumed in the USA in 1977 under revised capital statutes, there have been 1,374 executions nationwide. Texas accounts for 513 of these executions; 274 of them have occurred during Governor Perry’s time in office.