Will Texas Execute a Man with Mental Retardation?

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.

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39 thoughts on “Will Texas Execute a Man with Mental Retardation?

  1. Good story, Brian Evans! But I have bad news that Kenneth Biros' stay has been lifted by Ohio's federal court, which means that all our efforts to stay his execution by Ohio are in vain before a pending November 30 hearing on the Romell Broom incident. So sad. Yet I will continue to pray for Biros, Bobby Woods and their families and the families of their victims, that they may find comfort and forgiveness in the pain they are about to undergo in both impending losses, and that the nation may realize the error of their ways and find a better, non-lethal way to protect society from all evil. :(

  2. Good story, Brian Evans! But I have bad news that Kenneth Biros’ stay has been lifted by Ohio’s federal court, which means that all our efforts to stay his execution by Ohio are in vain before a pending November 30 hearing on the Romell Broom incident. So sad. Yet I will continue to pray for Biros, Bobby Woods and their families and the families of their victims, that they may find comfort and forgiveness in the pain they are about to undergo in both impending losses, and that the nation may realize the error of their ways and find a better, non-lethal way to protect society from all evil. :(

  3. On the eve of our Thanksgiving holiday, which is a celebration of life and God's blessing to our founding fathers, how can a country such as ours tolerate the killing of a man with an obvious questionable mental disability. What he did WAS heinous but government sanctioned killing time after time is heinous too.

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  5. On the eve of our Thanksgiving holiday, which is a celebration of life and God’s blessing to our founding fathers, how can a country such as ours tolerate the killing of a man with an obvious questionable mental disability. What he did WAS heinous but government sanctioned killing time after time is heinous too.

  6. Everyone is concerned about Mr. Woods mental retardation and the death penalty, yet no one hears the screams and torture of that little girl while the crime was being committed against her. Everyone has an opinion until that happens to them or someone close to them. A man who hurts my child the way this man did to this llittle girl whether he is sane, insane, retarted, dumb or whatever should be punished! It is obvious that he knew what felt good to him and he didn't stop, but proceeded not only to please himself but to kill… I feel sorry for him but this is cause and effect and I don't feel sorry for humans who hurt the innocent. The sad part of this story is this… there are many people in this world who continue commiting this heinous crime against children and are still walking our streets…there is no justice! They caught one guy who has a mental retardation problem and he is being executed… come on Governors/Courts and law makers… put these people away for life they don't belong in our society. The real sick people roam around us daily and there putting a mental retarded person to death when in reality the ones that are more sanes are the ones committing the crimes!0

  7. Everyone is concerned about Mr. Woods mental retardation and the death penalty, yet no one hears the screams and torture of that little girl while the crime was being committed against her. Everyone has an opinion until that happens to them or someone close to them. A man who hurts my child the way this man did to this llittle girl whether he is sane, insane, retarted, dumb or whatever should be punished! It is obvious that he knew what felt good to him and he didn’t stop, but proceeded not only to please himself but to kill… I feel sorry for him but this is cause and effect and I don’t feel sorry for humans who hurt the innocent. The sad part of this story is this… there are many people in this world who continue commiting this heinous crime against children and are still walking our streets…there is no justice! They caught one guy who has a mental retardation problem and he is being executed… come on Governors/Courts and law makers… put these people away for life they don’t belong in our society. The real sick people roam around us daily and there putting a mental retarded person to death when in reality the ones that are more sanes are the ones committing the crimes!0

  8. What an unfortunate situation. Who is to say at what point your mental capacity is reduced to the point that you don't understand that hurting and killing a little girl is wrong?

  9. What an unfortunate situation. Who is to say at what point your mental capacity is reduced to the point that you don’t understand that hurting and killing a little girl is wrong?

  10. How is business Joe? Chaching!! $$$$ Lots of folks out there that don't understand hurting and killing a little girl is wrong huh? Sad indeed.

  11. How is business Joe? Chaching!! $$$$ Lots of folks out there that don’t understand hurting and killing a little girl is wrong huh? Sad indeed.

  12. Put him to death… if he did it once he will do it again! Hurting a child.. and he doesn't know… right!

  13. Put him to death… if he did it once he will do it again! Hurting a child.. and he doesn’t know… right!

  14. Another piece of trash departs the Earth – Good riddance and I hope he can never rest in peace – retarded alright to slash the throat of a little girl – Hope you feel the pain tonight right in your arm and truly hope the anesthetic does not work.

  15. Ok, so let's look at the facts.
    1. Mr. Woods has an estimated IQ of 70.
    2. Mr. Woods viciously raped and killed an 11-year old girl.
    3. A jury of his citizen peers found him guilty, and worthy of execution.
    4. The Supreme Court says those afflicted from retardation should be held to a different standard, and are thus ineligible for execution.

    I believe to Supreme Court to be wrong. The justice system is designed to do two things: Deter criminals and to provide a sense of justice to the victims of crime. Letting this killer off easy does nothing to provide justice to the family of the dead girl. They deserve our consideration every bit as much as Mr. Woods.

    Demonstrate to me that Mr. Woods understands his actions sufficiently to never be a danger to another child in the future. Then explain why that understanding did not stop him the first time. If a dog attacks a child we put it down, we don't ask if it understood its actions because we know it doesn't have the mental capacity to do so.. We identify a threat, and we remove it. Why is this any different?

    Perhaps you might be thinking he should simply be kept in confinement for the rest of his life. That is an option I suppose, but explain to me why the parents, or any other taxpayer, should be forced to pay for his care?

  16. Another piece of trash departs the Earth – Good riddance and I hope he can never rest in peace – retarded alright to slash the throat of a little girl – Hope you feel the pain tonight right in your arm and truly hope the anesthetic does not work.

  17. Ok, so let’s look at the facts.
    1. Mr. Woods has an estimated IQ of 70.
    2. Mr. Woods viciously raped and killed an 11-year old girl.
    3. A jury of his citizen peers found him guilty, and worthy of execution.
    4. The Supreme Court says those afflicted from retardation should be held to a different standard, and are thus ineligible for execution.

    I believe to Supreme Court to be wrong. The justice system is designed to do two things: Deter criminals and to provide a sense of justice to the victims of crime. Letting this killer off easy does nothing to provide justice to the family of the dead girl. They deserve our consideration every bit as much as Mr. Woods.

    Demonstrate to me that Mr. Woods understands his actions sufficiently to never be a danger to another child in the future. Then explain why that understanding did not stop him the first time. If a dog attacks a child we put it down, we don’t ask if it understood its actions because we know it doesn’t have the mental capacity to do so.. We identify a threat, and we remove it. Why is this any different?

    Perhaps you might be thinking he should simply be kept in confinement for the rest of his life. That is an option I suppose, but explain to me why the parents, or any other taxpayer, should be forced to pay for his care?

  18. Apparently the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is YES.

    Bobby Woods was pronounced dead by lethal injection on 12/03/09 at 6:40PM CST, about an hour after the US Supreme Court refused to halt his punishment.

  19. Apparently the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is YES.

    Bobby Woods was pronounced dead by lethal injection on 12/03/09 at 6:40PM CST, about an hour after the US Supreme Court refused to halt his punishment.

  20. All those Catholics on those Supreme Court, when will bishops and priests refuse to give them communion for enabling the death penalty? When will the pope excommunicate them? I can only conclude the church hierarchy are moral relativists.

  21. All those Catholics on those Supreme Court, when will bishops and priests refuse to give them communion for enabling the death penalty? When will the pope excommunicate them? I can only conclude the church hierarchy are moral relativists.

  22. @David: "An Eye for an Eye" seems to be well within the Catholic doctrine. Perhaps Mr. Woods should be glad he wasn't raped before then having his throat cut.

  23. @David: “An Eye for an Eye” seems to be well within the Catholic doctrine. Perhaps Mr. Woods should be glad he wasn’t raped before then having his throat cut.

  24. It seems to me, that of all the states, Texas is statistically the most likely to be able to try a mentally retarded man by a jury of his peers…

  25. It seems to me, that of all the states, Texas is statistically the most likely to be able to try a mentally retarded man by a jury of his peers…

  26. Vengeance is a sick and twisted game. The death penalty is a form of this and has been shown not to actually deter crime. Killing a criminal does not really undo the crime and only seeks to perpetuate a cycle of violence. An eye for an eye renders everyone blind. Texas is one of the most messed up states in the union in more ways that bloodlust and rednecks.

  27. Vengeance is a sick and twisted game. The death penalty is a form of this and has been shown not to actually deter crime. Killing a criminal does not really undo the crime and only seeks to perpetuate a cycle of violence. An eye for an eye renders everyone blind. Texas is one of the most messed up states in the union in more ways that bloodlust and rednecks.

  28. @Michael: Your statements are typical of those with no concern for the victims of violent crime. The death penalty is a win-win scenario – it deters those that can be deterred, and it removes from the equation those that cannot be. Saying that an eye-for-an-eye would leave everyone blind sounds nice from the soapbox, but it is only true if people like you are just waiting for an opportunity to act violently against their neighbors. Nobody believes that killing criminals like Bobby Woods will undo the vicious crimes they commit, so let's stop using the straw man arguments. It is cruel and unusual punishment to further victimize these families by forcing them to provide life long care for these criminals with their tax dollars. You cannot undo a crime, but when deterrence fails it is not sick and twisted to offer the victims a sense of justice – that is the compassionate thing to do.

  29. @Michael: Your statements are typical of those with no concern for the victims of violent crime. The death penalty is a win-win scenario – it deters those that can be deterred, and it removes from the equation those that cannot be. Saying that an eye-for-an-eye would leave everyone blind sounds nice from the soapbox, but it is only true if people like you are just waiting for an opportunity to act violently against their neighbors. Nobody believes that killing criminals like Bobby Woods will undo the vicious crimes they commit, so let’s stop using the straw man arguments. It is cruel and unusual punishment to further victimize these families by forcing them to provide life long care for these criminals with their tax dollars. You cannot undo a crime, but when deterrence fails it is not sick and twisted to offer the victims a sense of justice – that is the compassionate thing to do.

  30. For those of you who bring up the tax dollars going to the individual's care, a puzzling piece of trivia you may find of interest. Life-long imprisonment costs the state and the tax payers around $400,000.00 total. Execution costs the state between $2 and $2.5 million. So if you're motivation for execution is money you're barking up the wrong tree.

    Now for me, I don't care how much the care costs. I will not ever endorse govenrment sanctioned murder. If I wished for my government to commit acts of retribution I would advocate for the individuals to be turned over to the victim's families. Our system, one built on the concept of deterrence, incarceration, and rehabilitation should have no room for revenge killing. The United States is the last industrialized western power to give up this ghost and it is well past time.

  31. For those of you who bring up the tax dollars going to the individual’s care, a puzzling piece of trivia you may find of interest. Life-long imprisonment costs the state and the tax payers around $400,000.00 total. Execution costs the state between $2 and $2.5 million. So if you’re motivation for execution is money you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    Now for me, I don’t care how much the care costs. I will not ever endorse govenrment sanctioned murder. If I wished for my government to commit acts of retribution I would advocate for the individuals to be turned over to the victim’s families. Our system, one built on the concept of deterrence, incarceration, and rehabilitation should have no room for revenge killing. The United States is the last industrialized western power to give up this ghost and it is well past time.

  32. @Ivy: If executions are costing more than a couple hundred dollars, then an investigation needs to be conducted. Somebody appears to be lining their pockets at taxpayer expense. Still that is a separate discussion from whether or not the execution needs to take place.

    I find it infuriating that your focus, like everyone else who is against executions, is on the criminal. You talk of deterrence (valid), incarceration, and of course there is that old favorite rehabilitation. You are yet another person who fails to mention JUSTICE for the victims and their families. It makes me sick when people like you act as if the criminal is the victim. THESE CRIMINALS MADE A CHOICE. It is an execution, an act of justice, that is the result of that choice. If they cannot understand this choice, they are even more dangerous. You can call it all kinds of names like "revenge murder" in order to portray this pedophile/rapist/murderer as a victim, but doing so is basically spitting in the face of this family whose 11 YEAR OLD LITTLE GIRL WAS RAPED AND MURDERED BY HAVING HER THROAT CUT. Get that picture in your head – their daughter, a child still in elementary school, was raped and murdered. They deserve better than your smug defense of these criminals – they deserve justice. No, I do not believe an execution brings the dead victim back, but it was this pedophile/rapist/murderer's choice to take her away in the first place. The family did not make a CHOICE to lose their daughter in this horrendous fashion so try to show some compassion and punish those that did choose to take her away. As a law-abiding citizen the practice of executing these animals, and they are animals, helps me sleep at night – I feel my family is just a little bit safer. That is another point people like you miss, these murderers victimize society as a whole as other parents have to worry about the safety of their children, and the more you defend these killers the worse it gets. If other nations are not insightful enough to understand these executions need to be done, then I'm glad I don't live there. Perhaps we can export these pedophile/rapist/murderers over for these other nations to handle – keeping them alive can be their problem.

  33. Christoph beat me to the punch on this one and brings up a good point: even opponents of the death penalty like Sr. Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame have conceded – the problematic issue of value of the victim…sparing the perpetrator's life devalues that of the victim after the fact. The system, therefore, favors the perpetrator because it can devote more resource more successfully to keep the perpetrator alive than to keep the victim alive.
    Another angle is to understand that in a criminal case, it isn't the suspect versus the victim, or the suspect versus the victim's family, it's the suspect versus the State. Theoretically a crime against one is a crime against all, rather than against a government or institution, and we have to ask ourselves whether, when we stoop to violence, we concede the field to the violent…we admit that this is their world, their universe, and we are meeting them on their terms…whatever their crime, it was committed as an exercise in power, and it seems to me the absolute worst thing that you can do to someone like that is render them powerless, but alive. I believe when we executed Timothy McVeigh we gave him exactly what he wanted, and legitimized his reign in a world of his creation.

  34. @Ivy: If executions are costing more than a couple hundred dollars, then an investigation needs to be conducted. Somebody appears to be lining their pockets at taxpayer expense. Still that is a separate discussion from whether or not the execution needs to take place.

    I find it infuriating that your focus, like everyone else who is against executions, is on the criminal. You talk of deterrence (valid), incarceration, and of course there is that old favorite rehabilitation. You are yet another person who fails to mention JUSTICE for the victims and their families. It makes me sick when people like you act as if the criminal is the victim. THESE CRIMINALS MADE A CHOICE. It is an execution, an act of justice, that is the result of that choice. If they cannot understand this choice, they are even more dangerous. You can call it all kinds of names like “revenge murder” in order to portray this pedophile/rapist/murderer as a victim, but doing so is basically spitting in the face of this family whose 11 YEAR OLD LITTLE GIRL WAS RAPED AND MURDERED BY HAVING HER THROAT CUT. Get that picture in your head – their daughter, a child still in elementary school, was raped and murdered. They deserve better than your smug defense of these criminals – they deserve justice. No, I do not believe an execution brings the dead victim back, but it was this pedophile/rapist/murderer’s choice to take her away in the first place. The family did not make a CHOICE to lose their daughter in this horrendous fashion so try to show some compassion and punish those that did choose to take her away. As a law-abiding citizen the practice of executing these animals, and they are animals, helps me sleep at night – I feel my family is just a little bit safer. That is another point people like you miss, these murderers victimize society as a whole as other parents have to worry about the safety of their children, and the more you defend these killers the worse it gets. If other nations are not insightful enough to understand these executions need to be done, then I’m glad I don’t live there. Perhaps we can export these pedophile/rapist/murderers over for these other nations to handle – keeping them alive can be their problem.

  35. Christoph beat me to the punch on this one and brings up a good point: even opponents of the death penalty like Sr. Prejean of “Dead Man Walking” fame have conceded – the problematic issue of value of the victim…sparing the perpetrator’s life devalues that of the victim after the fact. The system, therefore, favors the perpetrator because it can devote more resource more successfully to keep the perpetrator alive than to keep the victim alive.
    Another angle is to understand that in a criminal case, it isn’t the suspect versus the victim, or the suspect versus the victim’s family, it’s the suspect versus the State. Theoretically a crime against one is a crime against all, rather than against a government or institution, and we have to ask ourselves whether, when we stoop to violence, we concede the field to the violent…we admit that this is their world, their universe, and we are meeting them on their terms…whatever their crime, it was committed as an exercise in power, and it seems to me the absolute worst thing that you can do to someone like that is render them powerless, but alive. I believe when we executed Timothy McVeigh we gave him exactly what he wanted, and legitimized his reign in a world of his creation.