The state of Texas has executed Marvin Wilson, a man who shouldn’t have been eligible for the death penalty because of his low IQ. If you are angry that Texas has executed a person with an IQ of 61, then plan to come to the 13th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at the Texas Capitol on November 3, 2012 at 2 PM.
Here is the appeal submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Marvin Wilson, a man with an intellectual disability who is scheduled for execution in Texas on Tuesday August 7 despite having an IQ of 61. The New York Times says: “The court must stop this cruel and unconstitutional execution of a mentally retarded man.”
To protest this execution, call Texas Governor Rick Perry at 512 463 2000.
You can also call any member of the Texas House of Representatives and urge them to support a moratorium on execution in the next legislative session that begins in January 2013.
At 54, Marvin Wilson can’t use a telephone book. He reads and writes on a first- or second-grade level. Those who know the Southeast Texas man say he can’t match socks, he doesn’t understand what a bank account is for, he’s been known to fasten his belt to the point of nearly cutting off his circulation. The day his son was born, one sister recalled, he reverted to the familiar habit of sucking his thumb.
His IQ, according to the most valid indicator of human intelligence, is 61, below the first percentile. This was one of many clinical tests and factors that led a neuropsychologist with decades of experience to diagnose Wilson with “mild mental retardation.”
Nevertheless, at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, the state of Texas, in your name and mine, is scheduled to kill Marvin Wilson by lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court – citing the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment – banned the execution of the mentally retarded a decade ago.
But like other federal mandates, Texas has found a way around this one, too.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2002 decision in a case called Atkins, exempted all mentally ill offenders from execution, in part because those who struggle with impulse control, for example, are less culpable for their crimes. But also because mentally ill offenders may be especially vulnerable to wrongful convictions since they’re less able to help attorneys build strong defenses.
Wilson is a textbook example. According to his attorneys’ brief, Wilson was fingered as the lead shooter by a more sophisticated accomplice, and evidence of his “confession” in the murder of police informant Jerry Williams came from the accomplice’s wife.
In Atkins, the high court held that the states, many of which had begun to ban executions of the mentally retarded on their own, had reached a national consensus that the practice was immoral.
Of course, certain conservative factions in Texas, as usual, fell somewhere outside those evolving standards of decency. The Supreme Court left it up to the states to design procedures to implement the ban, but the state with the most active death chamber took that as an invitation to redefine the ban itself.
In a 2004 opinion, Texas’ highest court announced that, where executions were concerned, it didn’t have to define “mental retardation” the same way as other states. It didn’t even have to define it the same way it does for impaired Texas school children.
No, the fine jurists of Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals made up a new definition of “mentally retarded” especially for defendants in capital crimes. It wasn’t based on science or the generally accepted definition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. It was based on myths, stereotypes and even a fictional character: Lennie in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
Forget the national consensus. The Texas court was concerned only with the Texas consensus, “the level and degree of mental retardation” that Texans would agree should be exempted from the death penalty.
“Most Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt,” the court said. But someone else who didn’t meet that stereotypical description and merely had a clinical diagnosis to prove his mental retardation? Well, that’s a different story.
The court then set about redefining what it means to be mentally retarded in a capital case. The “Briseno factors” are a list of questions fact-finders should ask in criminal cases to determine whether a defendant is mentally retarded enough to be spared. The goal, of course, is to spare as few as possible.
The factors include such subjective and unscientific questions as whether a defendant can plan and lie. (My toddler is capable of both when there’s a cookie within reach.) Another question asks whether family and friends in the defendant’s life “think he was mentally retarded.” Never mind that mental retardation can be genetic and family members themselves may be impaired. The seventh, and most problematic factor invites the fact-finder to look at how the crime was perpetrated, which introduces emotion into a process that should be solely based on reason.
Wilson’s last hope
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found the lower court’s interpretation reasonable. The Texas Legislature has failed to address the issue after Gov. Rick Perry vetoed an earlier ban on such executions passed by lawmakers.
Wilson’s last hope is for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in today and grant a stay of execution so that the high court can consider his case along with another similar Texas case pending before it.
Once again we need the nation’s highest court to save us from ourselves. To remind us of our humanity. To impose on us the cruel confines of decency.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay to Marcus Druery, who had been scheduled to die this coming Wednesday. The appeals court released an order Friday afternoon halting the execution and saying that further review of Druery’s competence was necessary.
The 32-year-old has been diagnosed as schizophrenic by prison and private doctors. On Tuesday, a Brazos County judge refused to order a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether the inmate can understand his legal situation.
Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner said prosecutors do not dispute that Druery has a mental disorder, but they believe he’s competent enough to face execution.
Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement visited Texas death row this weekend and learned that Selwyn Davis had committed suicide. Davis had been sentenced to death in an Austin courtroom. Gloria wrote on Facebook:
It was with great sadness that I found out today about another suicide on Texas death row. An African American man named Selwyn Davis from Austin killed himself a few days ago. He had apparently accumulated a bunch of pills of some kind and then took them all at once. He had tried to kill himself earlier this year by cutting his wrists and throat with razor blades. But they were very dull and he didn’t die.
I hold the TDCJ responsible for his death. They house all men on death row, including those with perfect disciplinary records, in total isolation, denying all human contact.
Psychiatrist Terry Kupers, an expert on long-term isolated prison confinement, is the author of numerous articles on the subject as well as his book titled, “Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It.” He says this about isolation– it causes:
— severe anxiety;
— panic attacks;
— irrational anger, at time uncontrollable;
— social withdrawal;
— memory loss;
— appetite loss;
— delusions and hallucinations;
— profound despair and hopelessness;
— suicidal thoughts;
— paranoia; and
— for many, a totally dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally
outside of confinement.”
Today the Austin American-Statesman also found out about the death and reported on it:
Selwyn P. Davis, sentenced to death by a Travis County jury for the 2006 Austin murder of his girlfriend’s mother, was found dead in his cell on Texas’ death row last week, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Corrections officers conducting routine security checks found Davis, 30, unresponsive on the floor of his cell about 9 p.m. Friday, spokesman Jason Clark wrote in an email.
“Staff began life saving measures, called 911, and took the offender to the unit infirmary,” Clark wrote. “An ambulance then transported Davis to Livingston Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced deceased by an attending physician at 10:04 pm.”
Clark said the cause of death is unknown and that the department’s Office of Inspector General will investigate the death, which is routine.
Davis stabbed Regina Lara to death in her 38 1/2 Street apartment on Aug. 22, 2006.
The Austin Human Rights Commission tonight passed a resolution calling for Texas to repeal the death penalty and for a statewide moratorium on executions. The resolution also encourages the Travis County DA not to seek new death sentences and not to request execution dates for people already on death row from Travis County. Thanks to Delia Perez Meyer, who is a member of the Commission and who sponsored the resolution. Texas Moratorium Network wrote the resolution and testified for it at the meeting.
Resolution on the Death Penalty
WHEREAS, it is appropriate for city governments to give advice on matters of concern to them when actions of the state affect those cities; and
WHEREAS, in Texas a death penalty case can cost taxpayers three times more than seeking and obtaining a sentence of life in prison and of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for a term of life in prison, the additional cost of which is borne by all Texans; and
WHEREAS local taxpayers can be faced with the financial burden of settling lawsuits when innocent people are wrongfully convicted or executed because of problems in the criminal justice system. For instance, the City of Austin settled two wrongful conviction lawsuits in 2003 brought by Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa for a total of more than $14 million, all paid by the citizens of Austin; and
WHEREAS Texas leads the nation in executions with 483 since 1982 (as of July 23, 2012). The frequency of executions and the inadequacies in our criminal justice system increase the risk that an innocent person will be executed, and the execution of an innocent person by the State of Texas would be a grave injustice and would undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system; and
WHEREAS, twelve people have been exonerated of murder and released from Texas Death Row, including most recently Anthony Graves in October 2010, and 140 people have been exonerated and released from death rows in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970’s:
WHEREAS strong evidence exists in several cases that Texas has already executed innocent people, including Cameron Todd Willingham; and
WHEREAS juries and prosecutors across the nation and in Texas are opting against death in favor of life in prison without parole. In both 2010 and 2011, Texas juries approved new death sentences in only 8 instances each year, the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974. Only 6 of the 254 counties in Texas sent anyone to death row in 2011.
WHEREAS other states are increasingly turning away from the death penalty as evidenced by the legislatures in New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011) and Connecticut (2012) repealing the death penalty and the Supreme Court of New York ruling it unconstitutional in that state; and
WHEREAS there is no law in Texas that requires District Attorneys to seek the death penalty and district attorneys are free to choose to seek life in prison without the possibility of parole in all capital cases; and
WHEREAS, this resolution is not intended to minimize the profound pain that the families of murder victims suffer,
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission recommends to the Austin City Council to encourage the State of Texas to repeal the death penalty in Texas.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission also supports a moratorium on executions and the creation of a “Texas Capital Punishment Commission” to:
- study the administration of capital punishment in Texas and correct any injustices or unfair processes that are found and eliminate the risk of executing innocent people; and
- study whether Texas should repeal the death penalty.
BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Austin Human Rights Commission recommends to the Austin City Council to encourage the Travis County District Attorney not to seek death sentences in capital murder cases and not to request execution dates for current death row prisoners who were convicted in Travis County.
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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