The Houston Chronicle reports, "Death row inmate gets chance to prove retardation," by Mike Tolson.
A death row inmate whose lawyer and family claim has been demonstrably mentally retarded since his early teenage years will get a new chance to prove it in federal court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel ruled there was enough evidence presented that lower courts may have relied on the testing and conclusions of a controversial Fort Worth psychologist to give John Matamoros of Houston a fresh start in a claim that, if successful, would spare him the death penalty.
In granting a "certificate of appealability," the judges said that Matamoros should have the same chance to prove retardation as other inmates who had been evaluated by George Denkowski, who testified frequently for Texas prosecutors after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment for the mentally retarded in 2002. Denkowski's unconventional methods drew the ire of defense attorneys who said he was a purveyor of junk science and brought a reprimand from the state licensing board.
As part of a settlement with the board, Denkowski stopped testifying in capital cases. As word spread of his questionable approach, the cases in which he was involved have received heightened appellate scrutiny.
"Meet Dr. Death: Texas Fights To Kill Man Locked In Death Row Due To Discredited Doctor’s Testimony," is Ian Millhiser's post at Think Progress.
Dr. George Denkowsi evaluated sixteen Texas death row inmates before he was formally reprimanded in 2011 and fined $5,500 due to complaints that he used scientifically invalid methods to evaluate these inmates. Yet, despite this doctor’s doubtful methods, Texas is still fighting to kill one of the men evaluated by Denkowski. Whether Texas will succeed in this effort will now be decided by one of the most conservative courts of appeals in the country, according to an order issued yesterday by that same court.
The Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that “death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal” (although several states have exploited loopholes in this decision to execute intellectually disabled inmates anyway). In the wake of this decision, Texas hired Denkowsi as its expert witness during a hearing to determine whether or not a death row inmate named John Matamoros was intellectually disabled and therefore constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty. Three other psychologists evaluated Matamoros and determined that he is intellectually disabled, while Denkowski claimed otherwise.
The 5th Circuit ruling in Matamoros v. Stephens is available in Adobe .pdf format.
As I often point out, mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability. Because it has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term on the website. More on Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling banning the execution of those with mental retardation, is via Oyez.