[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----USA, PENN., MISS., ARK.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Mar 10 00:41:31 CST 2005
U.S. Says It Has Withdrawn From World Judicial Body
Prompted by an international tribunal's decision last year ordering new
hearings for 51 Mexicans on death rows in the United States, the State
Department said yesterday that the United States had withdrawn from the
protocol that gave the tribunal jurisdiction to hear such disputes.
The withdrawal followed a Feb. 28 memorandum from President Bush to
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales directing state courts to abide by
the decision of the tribunal, the International Court of Justice in The
Hague. The decision required American courts to grant "review and
reconsideration" to claims that the inmates' cases had been hurt by the
failure of local authorities to allow them to contact consular officials.
The memorandum, issued in connection with a case the United States Supreme
Court is scheduled to hear this month, puzzled state prosecutors, who said
it seemed inconsistent with the administration's general hostility to
international institutions and its support for the death penalty.
The withdrawal announced yesterday helps explains the administration's
Darla Jordan, a State Department spokeswoman, said the administration was
troubled by foreign interference in the domestic capital justice system
but intended to fulfill its obligations under international law.
But Ms. Jordan said, "We are protecting against future International Court
of Justice judgments that might similarly interfere in ways we did not
anticipate when we joined the optional protocol."
Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at the University of Georgia, said the
withdrawal was unbecoming.
"It's a sore-loser kind of move," Professor Spiro said. "If we can't win,
we're not going to play."
Ms. Jordan emphasized that the United States was not withdrawing from the
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations itself, which gives people
arrested abroad the right to contact their home countries' consulates. But
the United States is withdrawing, she said, from an optional protocol that
gives the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the principal
judicial organ of the United Nations, jurisdiction to hear disputes under
"While roughly 160 countries belong to the consular convention," she said,
"less than 30 % of those countries belong to the optional protocol. By
withdrawing from the protocol, the United States has joined the 70 % of
the countries that do not belong. For example, Brazil, Canada, Jordan,
Russia and Spain do not belong."
Among the countries that have signed the protocol are Australia, Britain,
Germany and Japan.
Ms. Jordan said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed Kofi Annan,
the secretary general of the United Nations, of the move on Monday.
Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School and a former State
Department official in the Clinton administration, said the Bush
administration's strategy was counterproductive.
"International adjudication is an important tool in a post-cold-war,
post-9/11 world," Dean Koh said.
For 40 years, from 1946 to 1986, the United States accepted the general
jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in all kinds of cases
against other nations that had also agreed to the court's jurisdiction.
After an unfavorable ruling from the court in 1986 over the mining of
Nicaragua's harbors, the United States withdrew from the court's general
But it continued to accept its jurisdiction under about 70 specific
treaties, including the protocol withdrawn from on Monday, said Lori F.
Damrosch, a law professor at Columbia. The other treaties cover subjects
like navigation, terrorism, narcotics and copyrights, and they are
The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case of Jos
Ernesto Medelln, a Mexican on death row in Texas, on March 28. Mr. Medelln
asks the court to enforce last year's judgment of the international
tribunal. Texas opposes the request.
When the federal government filed its supporting brief for Texas in the
case at the end of last month, it appended the memorandum from the
president to the attorney general.
Before the administration's strategy came into focus, international law
professors greeted the memorandum with amazement.
"This is a president who has been openly hostile to international law and
international institutions knuckling under, and knuckling under where
there are significant federalism concerns," Professor Spiro said.
As it turned out, Dean Koh said, the government had "an integrated
"Element 1," he continued, "was to take the bat out of the Supreme Court's
Lawyers for Mr. Medelln reacted cautiously. In a motion filed in the
Supreme Court yesterday, Donald F. Donovan, a lawyer with the New York law
firm Debevoise & Plimpton, asked the court to put off hearing argument
until Texas state courts could consider Mr. Medelln's claim.
For their part, Texas prosecutors have not conceded that the president has
the power to force courts there to reopen the Medelln case.
In a statement, Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg
Abbott of Texas, questioned the president's authority.
"The State of Texas believes no international court supersedes the laws of
Texas or the laws of the United States," Mr. Strickland said. "We
respectfully believe the executive determination exceeds the
constitutional bounds for federal authority."
Sandra Babcock, a Minnesota lawyer who represents the government of
Mexico, said she had no doubt that the president was authorized to
instruct state courts to reopen Mr. Medelln's case and 50 others.
"The law is on our side," Ms. Babcock said. "The president is on our side.
I keep having to slap myself."
(source: New York Times)
Novelist will pen real story of death row exoneration
John Grisham is taking a break from legal thrillers to write a book of
nonfiction about a death row inmate exonerated by DNA.
In an anouncement Wednesday, Doubleday Broadway publisher Stephen Rubin
said the as-yet-untitled book about Ronald Keith Williamson will be
published in 2006.
Williamson, a star high school athlete in Ada, Okla., was a second-round
draft choice of the Oakland Athletics. He played minor league baseball for
6 years and seemed destined for a major league career until suffering an
He returned to his hometown to work at various sales jobs. Then, in 1986,
he was arrested for the 1982 murder of Deborah Sue Carter, 21, whose body
was found in a garage apartment in Ada. Williamson and another man were
linked to the murder by hairs from the crime scene.
Williamson, who doctors said had bipolar disorder, told authorities he
recalled having a dream in which he pulled a cord around the woman's neck,
but he also said he dreamed that he stabbed her. Carter had not been
Both men were convicted, but they were freed in 1999 - 5 days before
Williamson was scheduled to die by lethal injection - after DNA evidence
proved their innocence. Another man eventually was sentenced to death for
the woman's murder.
Williamson continued to struggle with psychiatric problems, however, and
died on Dec. 4, 2004, of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 51.
Grisham read the obituary in The New York Times and found it impossible to
"Not in my most creative hour could I imagine a story as compelling as Ron
Williamson's," he says.
Grisham says he will write the story recounting the murder, the trial, the
imprisonment and the exoneration with the full cooperation of the
"It's a natural story for John to tell," Rubin says. "It has many of the
same themes present in his novels legal suspense, the death penalty,
wrongful conviction, even baseball. It's the ultimate true legal
Random House Audio will issue the recorded version simultaneously with the
Grisham has departed from his legal thriller formula in novels such as "A
Painted House," "Skipping Christmas" and "Bleachers," but this is his
first foray into nonfiction. His current hardcover novel, "The Broker,"
the story of a political dealmaker at the center of international
intrigue, is number two on The New York Times Best Seller List.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Juvenile executions should be banned
The death penalty, if it is to be used at all, should be reserved for
those who fully understand the heinous nature of the crimes they have
committed. A divided U.S. Supreme Court correctly ruled last week that
juvenile killers don't fit that bill.
The justices, in a 5-4 vote, outlawed the execution of those who were 16
or 17 years old when they committed their capital crimes. The court found
that prescribing the death penalty in these cases violated the
Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling, which has direct application in Mississippi, follows the same
rationale as that used in 2002, when the Supreme Court banned the
execution of mentally retarded criminals. In 1988, the court ruled that
killers under the age of 16 could not be executed.
The latest restriction on capital punishment brings the United States in
line with most of the civilized world, which has long accepted that minors
cannot be held as culpable for their actions as adults. Modern scientific
research has confirmed why. The part of the brain that controls impulsive
behavior and weighs long-term consequences is still developing during the
teenage years. Persons in that age group make poor decisions in part
because their internal wiring is not quite right yet.
In this country, the execution of juvenile offenders was already an
Mississippi was only one of 19 states that permitted it. In the past
decade, only 3 states have actually carried out such an execution.
Instead of the death penalty, juveniles who commit capital crimes will
most likely face lifetime prison sentences without the hope of parole.
That is by no means letting them off easy.
(source: Editorial, Clarksdale (Miss.) Press Register, Mar. 7)
PENNSYLVANIA----new execution date; NOT serious
PA Governor Rendell Signs Execution Warrant
PA Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed a warrant for the execution by
lethal injection of Raymond Johnson of Berks County.
Johnson's execution is scheduled for Thursday, May 5.
In September 2000, Johnson was sentenced to die for murdering Louis Combs,
a rival drug dealer in Reading. Johnson was formally sentenced to death on
September 22, 2000. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed his death
sentence on December 18, 2003 and denied reargument on February 19, 2004.
On July 19, 2004, Johnson filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the
United States Supreme Court. Certiorari was denied on November 29, 2004.
(source: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor)
Investigation----The execution exam
For 23 years on death row, Howard Neal has protested his innocence. He has
a mental age of eight but has learnt to read and write in prison. Now he
must take an IQ test. If he solves a series of simple puzzles, he dies.
We have to remove everything we're carrying: jewellery, watches, pencil,
notebook, handkerchiefs, even a finger puppet made by our granddaughter
that has lodged in the seam of one of our pockets. The guards in the
cavernous inspection hall remain expressionless as they pat us down,
inspect our pockets, steer us through two electronic screenings, then
point us to the bus waiting to take us into Parchman, the state
penitentiary set in 28,000 acres of the monotonous landscape of the
Mississippi delta. We pass between razor-wire compounds, with their
watchtowers and armed guards, and stop at the largest of all. We negotiate
sets of barred gates, each one sliding shut behind us before the next
opens, until finally we are directed to a cubicle facing a Plexiglas
window. This is Unit 32 - the euphemism for Parchman's death row.
Howard Neal shuffles in. He is wearing a red prison jump suit, shackles on
his ankles, his wrists cuffed to a chain around his waist. He is a slight,
middle-aged man, with green eyes and cropped light-brown hair. Unusually
for a white man from rural Mississippi, his face is smooth and unlined,
the result, we surmise, of so little time spent outdoors. He is anxious
and curious, as he rarely has visitors apart from his lawyers. He picks up
the phone on the far side of the window, straining against the handcuff to
place it by his ear. As we start talking, his face relaxes and there is a
glimmer of a smile. He has a Deep South accent that borders on the
impenetrable, and he speaks rapidly, almost staccato, as he knows we have
only an hour.
Neal has been on death row for 23 years. He was convicted of kidnap and
murder in 1982 and sentenced to die in the Mississippi gas chamber. He
relates the details of his arrest and interrogation, first by the
California police, later by Mississippi detectives in Jackson, the state
capital. He stammers as his words tumble out, yet he answers our questions
without apparent guile.
"Were you carrying a gun when the police picked you up?"
"Oh sure, I had a gun in my car. I told them that. And I told them they
could search my car."
He asks, several times, if we think he will get off death row. We tell him
that his lawyers are doing everything they can. Since we had to remove our
watches, we have no idea how time is passing. Without warning, a guard
calls him to return to his cell. Neal asks for more time, but the answer
is still no. We touch hands against the glass, then leave, back through
the sliding gates and razor wire, through the inspection hall, out into
the fierce Mississippi sun.
Already one anomaly is clear. Since we were allowed no contact with Neal,
why did we have to remove all our possessions? We know that this is death
row, where anomalies are rife, particularly given that the state of
Mississippi is not content merely to have sentenced a man to death, but
aims to render the rest of his life as uncomfortable and degrading as
possible - and, it could be added, to humiliate his visitors as well.
Neal inhabits a cell 6ft square. He is allowed out for four hours'
exercise a week. In summer, temperatures soar above 100F (37.7C). The
death-row suits are made of nylon and are unbearably hot, but there is no
air conditioning or a fan, and no access to cold water. The light is left
on 24 hours a day and the cell is infested with mosquitoes. Once, family
visitors could stay all day; then visits were restricted to an hour.
Neal's mother stopped coming; he last saw her in 1992.
All this for a crime that Neal insists he did not commit. His trial can
only be described as a travesty. The evidence against him was desperately
thin, consisting of one unsupported confession and a single, shaky witness
sighting. Although a federal court found that Neal was unfairly sentenced
to death, it refused to give him a reprieve. He has been within three
weeks of execution and owes his survival to a group of
anti-capital-punishment lawyers, who have been using every twist and
nuance of the American judicial system to keep him alive.
Now a new battle looms. Neal has an IQ of 54 and a mental age of eight,
classifying him in the US as mentally retarded (the British would say he
has learning difficulties). In 2002 the US Supreme Court ruled that the
execution of retarded prisoners should be stopped. Although it left it to
the individual states to decide how to define "mental retardation", it
recommended as a benchmark an IQ of 70.
While some states have already stopped executing the mentally retarded,
Mississippi is determined not to let Neal escape. Despite overwhelming
evidence that he is retarded, Mississippi is insisting on testing him
again. There is a controversy over what IQ tests truly represent, and
whether a test first devised to identify the skills of illiterate people
should be used to determine whether someone lives or dies. Nonetheless, a
psychologist is to be assigned to measure Neal's intelligence in the next
few weeks, using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, or WAIS.
Neal will be asked to complete a range of tests, such as reversing a set
of numbers and completing jigsaw puzzles. The psychologist will,
presumably, instruct Neal to do his best. If he scores well, his reward
will be a journey to Unit 32's execution chamber. But even if Neal falls
below the 70 watershed, he may not be spared. In two cases, Mississippi
has accepted the psychologists' verdict. In others, it has gone on the
offensive. Prosecutors have attacked the validity of the tests and have
accused prisoners of deliberately failing. A grandmother who declared that
her grandson was "a good father" found the state prosecutors using her
words to argue that he should be executed.
Supporters of the death penalty, an overwhelming majority in Mississippi,
see nothing wrong in this, since they believe that the Supreme Court
decision is a denial of retributive justice. To its opponents, it exposes
the contradictions inherent in trying to distinguish between capital and
non-capital offences - one of the two principal reasons capital punishment
was abolished in Britain in 1965. The other, that mistakes were both
inevitable and irrevocable, is also relevant in the case of Howard Neal.
In its rawness, its catalogue of family cruelty and abuse, his story
resembles something out of those talismanic Mississippi writers Tennessee
Williams or William Faulkner. It can be related from details in the court
records, and from Neal's letters, written in short, repetitive sentences,
after a fellow prisoner taught him to read and write.
Howard Monteville Neal was born in Mount Carmel, Mississippi, in 1953, one
of his mother's 11 children by three different fathers. The family lived
in a 2-bedroom shack with no electricity or running water. His father was
an alcoholic. "My daddy tore my mother's clothes off in front of all the
kids," Neal wrote. "He hit my mother with a brick in the head and blood
was run down her face." Neal's father beat him and abused him sexually,
including making him perform fellatio on him. He taught Neal to steal from
neighbours and drowned his dog in the local creek. "I was always afraid of
my daddy. I never understood why he was so bad, so mean," he wrote. He was
ridiculed by his siblings for seeming so slow and dumb. "All my family
hate me. My family always told me I was no good for anything at all."
Neal's teenage years were spent in institutions where he suffered further
cruelty. His parents separated when he was 10 and Neal was sent to a
children's home. "He was just throwed away," a sister said. He recalls
sleeping in a cell with a bucket for a toilet, and attending classes for
two hours a day. His older half-brother, Bobby, took him home for visits
but subjected him to sexual abuse, threatening to cut out his tongue if he
told anyone. "Bobby called me a retard and all kinds of bad names. He
always told me I was no good for anything. I was very, very afraid of
At 16, he was sent to the state mental hospital near Jackson, where he was
locked up with the most disturbed and aggressive inmates. "It was a real
bad place." At 18, after a spell living with his mother and latest
stepfather, he headed for Oklahoma, where he was jailed for assault. While
in prison he was raped and sodomised and, in the worst incident, forced to
commit fellatio on more than 30 prisoners and to spit their semen into a
bucket. A prison psychologist, Thomas Norwood, declared that Neal's was
the most tragic case he had ever encountered.
In 1979, Neal married a retarded woman called Glenda Snow, but after a few
months her parents took her back home. After further jail time in
Mississippi, Neal married again. His wife, Darla, was 15, and they had a
daughter. They went on the road, looking for work in Texas, Kentucky and
California, where Darla's brother tried to enlist Neal in drug-dealing. He
refused. In March 1981 he was arrested in Stockton, California, for
stealing a baseball cap. When the police checked his identity, they found
he was wanted over 3 killings back in Mississippi.
The horror of the crime still resonates in the town of Monticello. During
the night of January 24-25, 1981, say state prosecutors, Howard's
half-brother Bobby Neal was driven from his home in a car. With him were
his daughter, Amanda Joy, 13, and a cousin, Melanie Polk, 14. Bobby Neal
was taken out of the car and shot. The girls were driven to a clearing in
the woods, where police said they were raped and shot.
As Neal tells it, the first he knew of the killings was when he was
questioned by the California police. He denied any knowledge of them
through 3 days of intensive interrogation. He was refused a lawyer - the
police told him "in California you don't need one" - and was tricked into
signing an extradition paper allowing him to be sent back to Mississippi.
He was questioned for 3 days by the Jackson police, who demanded to know
what he had done with the murder weapon. As Neal describes it, he was
placed under such intense pressure that, out of desperation, he told them:
"In the river."
"I had to tell them something," he told us. "I thought they were going to
Neal stood trial a year later in an atmosphere of extraordinary drama. He
was accused only of the murder and kidnap of Amanda Joy, and the evidence
was farcically thin. A California detective testified that Neal had
confessed to him on the third day of questioning. He had no written
statement or recording of the confession, and no other officers were
present. A local motel-keeper, a former security officer who had often
worked with the police, said Neal had checked in around the time of the
killings. He said he had completed a registration card on Neal's behalf,
but this was never produced in court. He had not previously known Neal,
and identified him from a picture shown to him by the police 6 weeks
That was all. There was no forensic evidence - no fingerprints, blood,
fibres, ballistics - linking Neal to the crime. The police had claimed
that Amanda Joy had scratched her initials in the boot of Neal's car, but
no evidence was produced. The police could not find the murder weapon,
despite searching the river. There was no account of Neal's motive or how
the killing was carried out. Most striking were inconsistencies in his
uncorroborated confession in California. Although he had supposedly
confessed to raping Amanda Joy, the pathologist testified that her hymen
showed "no evidence of recent laceration" and there were no other signs of
sexual activity or assault. He had taken vaginal swabs and would normally
have tested them himself. However, they were sent to the police crime lab
and were never produced in court.
Neal always insisted that he had been in Texas, trying to get work on the
oil rigs. But he couldn't prove this. He wanted to testify in court, but
his trial lawyer dissuaded him. The view of his subsequent lawyers is that
the small-town jury had been far too credulous of the police evidence and
swayed by the claims of the prosecuting attorney, who told them to convict
Neal to save other children from being murdered. After a trial lasting
less than 3 days, the jury found him guilty on both charges and awarded
him the death penalty. (He was given a life sentence for the murder of
Bobby Neal in a separate trial, but never stood trial over Melanie Polk.)
The story of Howard Neal might have ended in the Parchman gas chamber had
it not been for a network of lawyers whose mission it is to oppose the
death penalty in the US. They believe it is immoral and hypocritical; it
is administered in an arbitrary and capricious manner; mistakes are rife
and your chances of evading the death penalty depend overwhelmingly on
your ability to hire expensive lawyers. (Neal himself says: "There aren't
any rich folks on death row.")
The US holds 3rd place in the global execution league, behind China and
Iran. In some US states, the tide of executions is receding, but
Mississippi remains determinedly in favour. In 1994 its governor said he
wanted Mississippi to become the capital-punishment capital of the US (an
honour then held by Texas) and proposed abolishing juries in capital
cases. He was defeated, but in 2000, Mississippi set up a special
department whose aim is to speed death-penalty cases through the judicial
The campaigners maintain a kind of deathwatch, monitoring court decisions
and trying to intervene. They usually step in after the 1st post-trial
appeal, automatic in death-penalty cases. They tend to work from cramped
offices that may be funded by charities or federal funds. Jim Craig, the
lead lawyer in Neal's case, became involved when he was working at the
Mississippi Capital Defense Resource Center in Jackson. He has continued
to handle it at his current law firm, a busy commercial practice in
Jackson. A devout Christian, he believes that the death penalty is
inherently wrong and that our sins are atoned for through the suffering of
Jesus, not executions. He works obsessive hours, unpaid, on Neal's case
and those of three other death-row prisoners.
Craig faces an equally determined opponent in Mississippi's assistant
attorney-general, Sonny White, the lead prosecutor in capital cases for
almost 20 years. Craig says: "He's very difficult and quite smart. His
style of litigation is more personal and more virulent than other kinds of
litigation I have dealt with. He seems to be of the opinion that this is
war and that he is to give no quarter."
Neal's 1st execution date was set for February 6, 1985. The first
death-row lawyers to examine his case were appalled. As Neal told it, the
California police had refused him a lawyer. They had not read him his
rights - and even if they had, he could not possibly have understood (in
court, the police denied any irregularities). The procedures in the
solitary instance of identification were a farce. He'd been prevented from
testifying in his own defence. The jury had heard numerous references to
the other two murders, even though they were not the subject of the Amanda
Joy trial. The supposed murders were entirely out of keeping with his
previous record of minor offences. And Neal was clearly mentally retarded.
Neal's new lawyers managed to have his execution date set aside with 3
weeks to spare. Since then, they have done their best to find a legal
argument to get Neal off death row. It has been a lengthy and frustrating
process. Twice, they seemed to be close to success. In 1987 they submitted
a new case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which had already denied
their first appeal, as well as the appeal by the trial lawyers. They
argued that the jury had not learnt enough about Neal's upbringing and
retardation before voting for the death penalty. The jury had heard just 2
witnesses, Neal's mother and a psychologist, and the lawyers produced a
The outcome was utterly perverse. Of the 9 judges, 5 agreed to allow
Neal's appeal. But these 5 couldn't agree on what should happen next.
Three said he should have another hearing; two thought he should come off
death row at once. Bizarrely, the 4 who rejected the appeal prevailed, and
Neal stayed on death row.
When Craig took over as the lead counsel, he too filed a series of
appeals. All were denied. In 2000 he returned to the issue of whether or
not the jury should have heard more about Neal's upbringing and
retardation, filing a fresh appeal to a federal appeals court. In March
2002 the court ruled that the previous decision by Mississippi had indeed
been wrong: the full evidence about Neal's mental retardation should have
been heard, and could have tilted the jury against the death penalty. But
then came the rub. The federal court added that although Mississippi was
wrong, it was not "unreasonably" wrong. By that semantic nicety, Neal was
to be executed.
His lawyers were running out of options. White had already declared that
Neal would be the next person to be executed. "Our backs were against the
wall," Craig says. In desperation, Craig argued that Neal had been
sentenced to die in the gas chamber and, as Mississippi had switched to
lethal injections, a new execution order was required. But White was ahead
of him, having already asked for a new hearing on that issue. Then came
grounds for hope.
In 1996 a man named Daryl Atkins had been sentenced to death for murder
and robbery in Virginia. Atkins had an IQ of 59 and a mental age between 9
and 12. His lawyers appealed to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that
he was mentally retarded and therefore should not be executed. Craig was
pessimistic, as the court had previously refused to exempt the mentally
retarded. But in June 2002 it ruled by six votes to three that to execute
Atkins would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the US
constitution. Its reasons could have been scripted with Neal in mind: the
mentally retarded were likely to make poor witnesses, to be of little
assistance to their lawyers, and even to make false confessions. Besides,
executing them would not serve as either deterrence or retribution.
To Craig, nothing could be clearer. Throughout the long series of appeals,
there had been endless evidence to the effect that Neal was retarded. But
White was not about to give up.
"We're going to have frivolous litigation," he predicted the day after the
Supreme Court verdict. "There are people on death row who all of a sudden
are going to be retarded."
Mississippi had long resisted the idea that the mentally retarded should
not be executed. In 1984, Mississippi's attorney-general declared that if
Neal were spared, it would "virtually eliminate the death penalty". It had
also attempted to undermine evidence of mental retardation. In numerous
tests conducted over 20 years, Neal's IQ was consistently measured in the
mid-50s, placing him in the bottom 1% of the population. The only experts
to dispute this were two state psychologists. Even though they had
obtained an IQ score of 61, they claimed Neal was "smarter than he lets
on". They also argued that because Neal could recall once buying a
shotgun, he was "faking it" when he was unable to repeat digits backwards
in an intelligence test.
Similar arguments are being dusted off again in Mississippi. The Supreme
Court didn't instruct individual states on how to determine mental
retardation, but it did recommend definitions drawn up by the American
Psychological Association (APA) and the American Association on Mental
Retardation (AAMR). The AAMR had issued its definition to assist the
social acceptance of mentally retarded people, rather than help decide if
they should be killed. It also viewed the IQ figure as the principal
benchmark, to be backed up by what it termed failures of adaptive
behaviour - someone with a borderline IQ score, 70-80, could still be
classed as mentally retarded if they were unable to cope with the
exigencies of everyday life. But in Mississippi, White made it clear he
intended to use the concept to challenge the IQ tests.
"Some states have adopted a 70 IQ [as their standard] but I think that is
fairly restrictive," he said. "Somebody can have the IQ itself of 70 but
still not meet the other standards."
White used this strategy in the case of William Wiley, whose application
for what has become known as an Atkins hearing was heard earlier last
year. Wiley's most recent IQ score was 68, but White argued that this was
outweighed by his "adaptive behaviour" - he could drive, run errands and
baby-sit, and was "a good son and grandson". The prosecutors also attacked
the credentials of the psychologist who measured his IQ. The Mississippi
Supreme Court sided with the prosecution and Wiley remained on death row.
In another case, a Parchman guard's evidence that a death-row inmate could
count the cigarettes he had purchased was said to prove adaptive
behaviour. And when the Mississippi Supreme Court was asked to arbitrate
in a case where psychologists had clashed over a prisoner's IQ scores -
one marked him at 62, the other at 80 - it voted for execution.
Craig is appalled. The terms used by the APA and AAMR, he says, are
"clinical definitions used to determine whether someone needs help", yet
now they will be deployed in an adversarial setting as if they have the
force of law.
Mississippi and its attorney-general "are trying to frustrate the
constitution. They do not like Atkins and they are trying to make the
exceptions the rule".
Mississippi has also introduced a criterion that was not mentioned in the
APA or AAMR definitions. It is following the lead of Justice Scalia, the
most conservative of the 9 Supreme Court judges, who dissented from the
Atkins decision on the grounds that the mentally retarded can cheat in the
IQ tests. The idea that someone of limited intelligence could cheat on an
IQ test is deeply contentious, since it would require them to decode the
strategy behind the tests, identify the correct answer and select a wrong
answer, all within a time limit. However, Mississippi now requires
prisoners seeking Atkins hearings to take a test known as the Minnesota
Multiple Personality Inventory (MMPI). As Craig points out, the basis for
using the MMPI to detect malingering is highly dubious, since it was
designed for such uses as job applications (Craig took one when he was
thinking of becoming a priest). And while it contains internal checks to
detect cheats, they only reveal cheating on the MMPI itself.
This is the legal arena into which Neal will step when he returns to
Monticello for a hearing before the original trial judge this spring.
Despite the voluminous evidence of Neal's retardation, Craig is concerned.
For most of his time on death row, Neal has led a solitary life. He is
wary of making friends "because they tease me and make fun of me". His
greatest compensation derives from having learnt to read and write. He
inscribes long, laboriously penned letters that reflect the confines of
life on death row. "It has been rain a lot here today," he wrote last
"I hope you got some rain in London now. I love to watch the pretty rain
outside my window. We have a lot crazy weather in MS."
White has made it clear that he intends to use Neal's letters to argue
that even if his IQ is 60 or below, they comprise adaptive behaviour that
shows he is not mentally retarded. White also intends to cite a play,
staged in London 3 years ago, that was based on an account of Neal's life
a welfare worker had suggested he write. As Craig points out, Neal's
writings are irrefutably childlike, with a repetitious, limited
vocabulary, entirely consistent with his IQ and mental age. "He has the
intelligence of an eight-year-old, and an eight-year-old can write
letters. To argue that to be able to communicate in this way does not make
him mentally retarded is preposterous."
As Craig prepares for the hearing, he dutifully opines that the judge is a
"studious and intelligent man" who will apply the logic of the Atkins
test, even if he dislikes the outcome. But Neal has another test to run,
where he may prove his own worst enemy. Before the hearing, he is due to
take yet another IQ test. What concerns Craig is that Neal has little real
understanding of how his fate is being determined, as was revealed the
last time he was tested. The psychologist noted that he asked if she
thought he was mentally retarded. She asked what he thought that meant,
and he replied: "It means you're a bad person, a nobody."
Neal, the psychologist related, had been proud to show her that he could
read and write. He was also "highly motivated" to do well on the tests,
and appeared not to know that his life could depend on the outcome. He was
disappointed when she told him it was time to stop, and asked her to let
him finish it.
(source: London Times, March 6)
End death penalty for young people -- Arkansas is one of only 21 small
dominions on earth where an eye for an eye is still the operating theology
Just the other day, the state Senate moved to correct that by voting
solidly to ban the death penalty for people who commit capital crimes
before they turn 18. Last week, the U. S. Supreme Court finished the job
for the legislature by ending the execution of youngsters forever. Every
other nation on earth bars the execution of juveniles.
The brutish Iranians and Pakistanis partnered with us until not long ago
but they no longer had the stomach for it. Arkansas and a few other states
until this week were the only places on earth that exacted the last full
measure of revenge upon the immature, as well as men who are seasoned to
But does the Supreme Courts decision relieve Arkansas of the burden?
We dont think it does.
If this is, indeed, the standard of civilized conduct in the United States
as well as in the rest of the world - and the Senates vote, the backing of
the governor and major religious groups and polls say that it is even in
Arkansas - then let it be reflected in our own laws even if it is a week
or 2 behind the deed.
Let us join the caravan of civilization, not hide and watch.
The House of Representatives should take up the bill and pass it lustily.
(source: Editorial, The Leader)
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