That's the title of Renee Feltz' article in the latest edition of the Texas Observer. She has written extensively about the Texas criminal justice system's dubious assessments of persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), also known as mental retardation.
In the final hours before his execution in Huntsville Tuesday night, 54-year-old Marvin Wilson told his attorney that, comforted by his god and family, he had reconciled himself to what was about to happen. Now we are left to wonder how Texas was able to kill a man with an I.Q. of 61 who reportedly sucked his thumb into adulthood. This was supposed to be a case about science, but the courts failed to apply it.
Wilson’s execution is an example of what has happened—and could continue to happen—to mentally disabled death row inmates in the Texas justice system —unless state lawmakers finally pass legislation instructing the court to use a science-based definition of mental retardation. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has vowed to re-introduce a measure that would ensure Texas implements the medically accepted criteria set out by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to make sure that the “ultimate penalty should be reserved for those that can clearly comprehend why they are going to die.”
Ellis floated a similar proposal in 2010, the last time the Observer reported on Texas’ attempts to execute a mentally retarded prisoner, Daniel Plata. Plata’s life was spared when state District Judge Mark Kent Ellis took issue with methods used by psychologist George Denkowski, whose opinion state prosecutors relied on to argue Plata was eligible for execution, noting that "it is not generally accepted practice within the field of psychological assessment to obtain an IQ score, declare it invalid, and then estimate an IQ score with numbers," as Denkowski had done. Plata is now serving a life sentence in a unit designed for mentally challenged offenders.
In the meantime, as Texas courts rely on stereotypes and unscientific evidence to determine if the roughly dozen men on death row with mental retardation claims should live or die, some prosecutors in new capital punishment cases are working to determine the defendant’s intellectual capacity before they go to trial. This is a key development because, as the Wilson case shows, once an intellectually disabled person is convicted and sentenced to death, neither state judges, or the U.S. Supreme Court, are eager to reverse the mistake.
More from journalist Renee Feltz at the link.
Earlier coverage of the execution of Marvin Wilson begins in the preceding post.