Thursday, March 7, 2013

Texas: Bill Would Limit Execution of Intellectually Disabled

Before Texas executed Marvin Wilson last year for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont, his case generated headlines, reminding the nation of a rather unique corner of death penalty law here.

The standards used to determine whether a Texan convicted of murder is mentally fit to be executed are based in part on the fictional character Lennie from John Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men, a fact that enraged the author’s son.

"I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic,” Thomas Steinbeck said, calling for a halt to Wilson’s execution. “I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way."

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said Wilson’s execution and other cases left him feeling embarrassed for his home state. “It’s junk science. Its not a credible way of making a decision,” he said.

So Ellis filed Senate Bill 750, which would establish new — and, he argues, more scientific — standards to determine when a convicted Texan is too intellectually disabled to face the death penalty. The bill revives a decade-old fight with prosecutors, who argue that the current standards are adequate and that Ellis’ proposal would make it too easy for defendants to make a case that they are mentally retarded and exempt from the death penalty.


Source: Texas Tribune, March 6, 2013