Texas On Verge of Executing Mentally Disabled Man

Press Release
August 3, 2012

Texas On Verge of Executing Mentally Disabled Man

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Amnesty International USA today called on Texas to reverse its “utterly shameful” decision to go forward on Tuesday with the execution of Marvin Wilson, who has an IQ of 61. If Texas won’t commute the death sentence, then the U.S. Supreme Court must step in to stop Texas from defying its ban on executing mentally disabled prisoners.

“Texas seems to think it can buck even the Supreme Court,” said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. “The Supreme Court must hear this case, if Texas refuses to commute the sentence.”

Wilson, 54, who is African American, is due to be put to death by lethal injection this coming Tuesday for a murder committed in 1992. A clinical neuropsychologist has concluded that he has “mental retardation.”.According to his most recent test, Wilson has an IQ of 61 (most states bar executions for those with IQs at 70 or below).

“That puts Wilson below the first percentile of human intelligence, and he’s in an even lower percentile for adaptive functioning,” said Moye. “It’s utterly shameful for Texas to be considering an execution in this case.”

A decade ago, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court prohibited the execution of offenders with “mental retardation” while leaving it up to the individual states as to how to comply with the ruling.

Before the Atkins ruling, Texas executed more inmates diagnosed with “mental retardation” than any other state. A decade later, its legislature has yet to enact a law to comply with Atkins, and it appears that “temporary” guidelines developed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) in 2004 are letting the state execute offenders who should be exempted from this punishment under the Constitution.

These temporary guidelines are a set of seven questions that the TCCA itself suggested were inspired by Lennie Small, the mentally impaired ranch hand in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The American Association of Intellectual and Development Disabilities (AAIDD) has written that these 7 questions “…are based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.” The AAIDD (known then as AAMR), was the main scientific authority noted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins.

In 2003, Wilson’s lawyers filed an “Atkins claim” to challenge the constitutionality of his death sentence. They presented the courts with the detailed conclusions of a court-appointed neuropsychologist with 22 years of clinical experience who assessed Wilson as meeting the criteria for “mental retardation”.

The state of Texas has presented no expert testimony to rebut that evidence, but state courts, applying the TCCA’s much-criticized guidelines, rejected the Atkins claim. The federal courts, required under U.S. law to give a high level of deference to state court rulings, upheld the denial. Wilson’s lawyers are seeking U.S. Supreme Court intervention on his case.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally in all cases as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment; in the United States the process is riddled with discrimination, inconsistency and error.

This would be the seventh execution in Texas this year, as the state heads for its 500th execution since resuming judicial killing 30 years ago.

Nationwide, 1,301 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, including 24 this year.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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