Death Penalty In 2012: Seven Significant Signs

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature's  vote to abolish the death penalty.

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature’s vote to abolish the death penalty.

By this time at the end of the year, states have generally stopped killing their prisoners. This break from executions is a good thing, and perhaps this year it will give us a chance to reflect on the larger question of our violent culture, and on how perhaps we can start focusing on preventing terrible crimes rather than simply responding with more violence.

The end of the year is also a time for looking back. Fortunately, this is also the time of year when the Death Penalty Information Center releases its year-end report, which provides a lot of good data. This year’s version reveals the geographically arbitrary (and increasingly isolated) nature of capital punishment in the U.S. In 2012, death sentences and executions maintained their historically low levels, and only nine states actually carried out an execution.  In fact, the majority of U.S. states have not carried out an execution in the last five years. Just four states were responsible for around three-fourths of the country’s executions, and four states issued about two thirds of U.S. death sentences.


How Texas Can Execute a Man with an IQ of 61

Marvin Wilson

Marvin Wilson

According to his most recent test, Marvin Wilson has an IQ of 61 (most states bar executions for those with IQs at 70 or below). That puts him below the first percentile of human intelligence, and he’s in an even lower percentile for adaptive functioning.  Despite the US Supreme Court’s ten-year old ban on executing the “mentally retarded” (Atkins v. Virginia), Marvin Wilson faces execution in Texas on August 7.

In Georgia, the case of Warren Hill recently exposed that state’s uniquely strict requirement that “mental retardation” be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” before an execution can be declared unconstitutional.

Texas uses a more reasonable “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof.  But the Lone Star State has found another way to keep killing the intellectually disabled. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Warren Hill Gets A Stay Of Execution

warren hill

Warren Hill

Georgia will not be able to execute Warren Hill on Monday.  He has been granted a temporary stay so the state of Georgia can sort out whether the sudden switch to a one-drug lethal injection protocol last week violated state laws guaranteeing public input on important administrative procedures (like killing people).

This is good news, in that Hill will not immediately be put to death, but there is no question that Georgia fully intends to execute a man with an IQ of 70 whom state judges have declared to be “mentally retarded” by all legal standards except the “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar used only by Georgia.

That the stay was granted on the lethal injection question allows the state of Georgia to evade further scrutiny of the way it handles capital punishment for the mentally disabled.  For now, the Supreme Court, which banned executions of those with intellectual disabilities ten years ago, will not be reviewing Warren Hill’s case or the unique Georgia law upon which the state bases its right to kill him.

The Cruelty of Killing the Intellectually Disabled

The state of Virginia plans to put Teresa Lewis to death on September 23, 2010.

How does killing the intellectually disabled give us justice?

The state of Virginia plans to put Teresa Lewis to death on September 23 for orchestrating the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson for insurance money.  Strangely, though, this so-called “mastermind” has an IQ of 72 and has been diagnosed with “borderline mental retardation”.  Further, one of the two shooters in the case admitted in 2004 that he was the true mastermind and that he determined shortly after meeting Lewis that she was “not too bright and could be easily manipulated.” And it seems that that is just what he did.  His IQ, incidentally was scored at 113.  The two shooters were sentenced to life.  Lewis, a non-shooter, was cooperative, pled guilty and now faces death.

This is the second execution date set for this month of a person whose mental capacity borders on intellectual disability.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional to execute such individuals, except that these two individuals were not recognized in their legal proceedings as meeting the definition of “mentally retarded” (the outdated term used in legal-ese), which requires a look at a number of factors.  Accountability and providing justice for the sake of the murder victims is not the question here, but surely these individuals whose culpability is diminished by their mental capacity should not be executed in a humane society.

Holly Wood, an African American man in Alabama may be put to death tonight if Governor Bob Riley does not intervene.  At the crux of his case is the unsurprising issue of ineffective legal counsel.  The lawyer who represented him at the sentencing phase was a total rookie – no experience with death penalty cases, let alone criminal law.  He failed to share with the jury information about Wood’s mental impairments and as a result, this crucial mitigating factor was missing from deliberations that resulted in the decision to send him to the gurney.  While there was no question about his guilt, four federal judges in three courts, whose opinions did not carry the day, concluded that he was denied adequate legal representation.

The failure to investigate Wood’s mental disability was proof said two dissenting U.S. Supreme Court justices of “inattention and neglect.”  And so, another person goes to death row because of a system that is willing to allow poor legal representation for people facing the most severe and irreversible sentence.  Incidentally, his IQ has been assessed (post-conviction) at 64 and 59.  A reporter asked me yesterday how this score would not indicate his “mental retardation”; thus, how could Wood’s execution be constitutional?  I really don’t know.

Help us stop the pending executions of Teresa Lewis and Holly Wood by taking action today.