Amnesty International Calls Supreme Court Failure to Stop Texas Execution of Man with Low I.Q. "Highly Disturbing"

Press Release
August 7, 2012

Amnesty International Calls Supreme Court Failure to Stop Texas Execution of Man with Low I.Q. "Highly Disturbing"

Refusal to Rein in "Rogue State" Undermines Decade-Old Ban on Executing People with Diminished Mental Capacity

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

(New York) – Amnesty International said today it is "highly disturbing" that the U.S. Supreme Court – ignoring its own decade-old ruling – refused to prevent the execution in Texas of Marvin Wilson, despite his low I.Q. of 61. The court‘s refusal to stay the execution defies its own 2002 ban on executing individuals with diminished mental capacity.

Unless Texas grants clemency, which so far state authorities have been unwilling to do, Wilson will likely be sent to the death chamber at 6 p.m. central time on Tuesday.

The decision was made despite Wilson‘s lawyer‘s contention that Texas‘ stereotype-riddled set of questions to determine "mental retardation" in capital cases is, in fact, unconstitutional. These questions 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 Texas‘ questions "…are based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated."

"The state of Texas never should have scheduled this execution at all," said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA‘s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. "And it‘s highly disturbing that the Supreme Court has refused to rein in the state‘s egregious behavior, ignoring its own ruling that someone with diminished mental capacity should never be executed. "

"The Texas death penalty, like all capital punishment, violates basic human rights," Moye said. "But even by standards in the United States, which is in the minority of countries globally who continue to execute people, Texas is a rogue state, flouting constitutional restrictions on the use of the death penalty."

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.

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. If Wilson is executed, it 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.