The Texas Observer is reporting in the article “Cracked“, by Renée Feltz that the prosecution’s expert psychologist used junk science to determine that the defendant in the case in which Sharon Keller slammed shut the doors of her court by saying “we close at 5” did not have mental retardation. Michael Richard, the person whom Texas executed after Sharon Keller said “we close at 5”, would probably have been found to be constitutionally protected from being subject to the death penalty, if the state’s expert psychologist had not used junk science to incorrectly determine that he did not have mental retardation.
The now discredited psychologist, George Denkowski, also handled 17 other Texas death penalty cases in which the people are still on Texas’ death row, all of which would need to be re-evaluated, if Denkowski loses his license as a result of a hearing to be held Feb 16 in Austin.
In 2005, Brown and Denkowski tested Michael Richard, who had been sentenced to death for the 1986 rape and murder of a 53-year-old Houston woman named Marguerite Dixon. Based on test scores and school records, Brown concluded that Richard was mentally retarded, and had been all his life.
At first, Denkowski agreed that Richard was mentally retarded. As the state’s expert, he had submitted a finding that Richard had an IQ of 64 and adaptive-behavior scores that clearly showed mental retardation. His combined score was a 57, well below the 70 cutoff. But Denkowski retracted his findings after prosecutors showed him a list of books that were found in Richard’s cell, including two dictionaries. Denkowski said the dictionaries showed that Richard could read much better than he had indicated under testing. He adjusted several of Richard’s scores. When he added them up, the total score jumped from 57 to 76. In his new opinion, Denkowski concluded that Richard should no longer be considered mentally retarded.
When Brown saw the prosecution’s list of books, he met with Richard a second time to ask him about his reading abilities and clarify how he’d used the books in his cell—one of which was written in German. Denkowski had not followed up with Richard to ask about the books. Richard described to Brown how he stacked the books on top of each other and used them to sit on, since his death row cell lacked a chair.
Even so, the judge accepted Denkowski’s revised score. In September 2007, Richard was executed. Brown was appalled. “To those of us familiar with the right way to do these things, it is very apparent that what he’s doing is wrong.”