Will Texas Execute a Man with Mental Retardation?

November 25, 2009

untitledBobby Woods has an IQ of around 70 and is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas on December 3.  The crime for which he was sentenced to die was heinous (he was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl), but executing persons with mental retardation has been forbidden by the US Supreme Court since 2002.  Those with diminished mental capacity are deemed less culpable for the crimes they commit, therefore execution, for them, is a “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Since 2002 the problem, in Texas as elsewhere, has been defining what mental retardation is – most states have settled on an IQ below 70 as the main quantifiable criterion, though IQ testing is not the most exact of sciences.   The problem, for prisoners like Woods, is that proving a sufficiently diminished mental capacity, as with most other facets of our capital punishment system, requires a good lawyer.

A good lawyer Bobby Woods did not have.  As the Texas Observer points out, in 10 years of representation both at trial and on appeals, Woods’ lawyer visited him exactly one time.  Unable to raise a mental retardation claim with the courts at this late stage, Woods’ new attorney, Maurie Levin, must rely on the good graces of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Governor Rick Perry, to commute his sentence, or at least to grant a 60 day reprieve to allow Levin more time “to adequately present a full picture of his limitations.”

The Observer piece, with links to videos and excerpts from letters, does a pretty good job of presenting such a picture.