Marvin Wilson may have less than 24 hours to live.
Ever more nations have abandoned the barbaric death penalty. Perhaps, eventually, the 33 U.S. states still executing people will come around, too. But even in a nation where 1,301 individuals have been executed since 1976 and another 3,170 are in the queue, it is considered uncivilized to execute the mentally retarded.
Except in Texas.
Because in Texas, officialdumb likes executing people. Under Gov. Rick Perry, 244 individuals have been injected with lethal chemicals. And the mental condition of those executed makes no never mind to the guy signing the order, the criminal-injustice system assigning the sentence or the authorities carrying it out.
So, instead of following the clear spirit of the 6-3 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia, Texas plans to stick the needle in Marvin Wilson's arm Tuesday. He has a certified IQ of 61. He has been on death row for 18 years for the 1992 slaying of Jerry Robert Williams.
Advocates hope the Supreme Court chooses to put a stay on Wilson's execution and review his case in light of Atkins.
Apparently still believing in the good faith behavior of the state courts despite all they have witnessed to the contrary, the six members of the Supreme Court majority in that 2001 case left it up to states to come up with a means of determining whether a convicted murderer is faking retardation.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
In a profoundly uncivilized dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued, in effect, for a kill-'em-all-let-god-sort-'em-out approach. Because, you see, it would be too difficult to figure out who is gaming the system and who is truly retarded. Texas just winged it. Instead of setting forth an objective test, the courts threw the issue into the hands of judges and juries on a case-by-case basis. Paul Campos writes:
Marvin Wilson has the mental development of the average first-grader. He sucked his thumb into adulthood; he cannot use a phone book; and he doesn’t understand what a bank account is. As a child he would sometimes clamp his belt so tightly that he would cut off blood circulation. He couldn’t figure out how to use simple toys such as tops and marbles, and he was tormented by other children, who called him names like “dummy” and “retard.”
The most shocking aspect of this case is that the state of Texas has never even bothered to present any evidence contesting the defense’s claim that Wilson is mentally retarded. The uncontested evidence—presented by a court-appointed neuropsychologist at a hearing conveyed for the purpose of determining Wilson’s mental capacity—is that Wilson has an IQ below the first percentile, and has trouble performing even the simplest tasks without help. In other words he easily meets the standard clinical definition of mental retardation, which the Supreme Court used as the basis of its [...] decision.
But not in Texas. Retarded or not, he's going down. Which should come as no shock in a state where defendants whose attorneys literally fell asleep in court have been executed, where the innocent
have been executed, where the innocent have been nearly executed
, where the mentally ill
have been executed, where those who committed their crimes as juveniles
have been executed.
Errol Morris is the documentary film-maker whose movie The Thin Blue Line was credited by Randall Adams for leading to the overturning of his conviction in the slaying of a police officer in Texas. Adams, who died in 2010, served 12 years in prison, several of them on death row before he was released in 1989. Says Morris:
One of the lessons about the Adams case is that, if it had happened now instead of 1988, when the movie came out, Randall Adams would in all likelihood have been executed. Even if he hadn't been executed, he wouldn't have gotten out of prison. Supreme Court cases in the intervening years have made it much, much more difficult to appeal death penalty convictions and life imprisonment convictions.
Nobody doubts Marvin Wilson did the crime. The question in his case is wholly different. The Court majority in Atkins
stated, in the words of Justice J.P Stevens:
"Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our 'evolving standards of decency,' we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution 'places a substantive restriction on the State's power to take the life' of a mentally retarded offender."
If the court chooses not to review
the case of Marvin Wilson, as numerous advocates and The New York Times
editorial aboard has urged
, it has essentially given its imprimatur to Justice Scalia's dissent and the Texas officials who seem to relish killing people, even those with the mental age of six-year-olds. You have to wonder what their own mental age is.