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US Supreme Court Allows Texas to Execute Low-IQ Inmate Marvin Wilson

Human rights groups decry 'highly disturbing' decision by court

Common Dreams staff

Marvin Wilson has been executed by the state of Texas. (Photograph: AP)

In a move that human rights groups called 'highly disturbing' and in a reversal of its own 2002 ban on the execution of individuals with diminished mental capacity, the US Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stop the execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with a reported IQ of only 61.

Wilson, convicted of a drug-related murder in 1992, was subsequently executed by the state of Texas Tuesday evening and he was pronounced dead at 6:27 p.m., 14 minutes after his lethal injection began at the state prison in Huntsville.

"The state of Texas never should have scheduled this execution at all," said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA‘s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. "And it‘s highly disturbing that the Supreme Court has refused to rein in the state‘s egregious behavior, ignoring its own ruling that someone with diminished mental capacity should never be executed. "

The Supreme Court rejected without comment the last-ditch appeal by Wilson's lawyers on Tuesday afternoon, clearing the path for his evening execution. The appeal cited a 2004 psychological exam that pegged Wilson's IQ at just 61. The Texas benchmark for mental retardation is an IQ of about 70 or less.

"We are gravely disappointed and profoundly saddened that the United States Supreme Court has refused to intervene," said Lee Kovarsky, Wilson's attorney and a law professor at the University of Maryland.

"The Texas death penalty, like all capital punishment, violates basic human rights," Amnesty's Moye said. "But even by standards in the United States, which is in the minority of countries globally who continue to execute people, Texas is a rogue state, flouting constitutional restrictions on the use of the death penalty."


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Texas has conducted roughly three out of every eight executions since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed the practice to resume after a four-year hiatus, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In 2002 the United States Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia, prohibited the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, finding that such a practice violates the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. While most states rely on a clinical evaluation to determine intellectual disability, Texas allows the execution of people who have been clinically diagnosed with an intellectual disability if they meet certain vague social criteria, called the “Briseño factors.”

Using the Briseño factors, Texas state courts twice ruled that Wilson was still eligible to be executed. The court cited the fact that Wilson is married and has a child and that he lied to police to protect himself as proof that his execution is permissible.

“Texas courts seem to think people with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be able to marry, have kids, or even lie,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The basis of the Briseño factors is both unfounded and discriminatory.”

“Marvin Lee Wilson has an intellectual disability and under US law should not be executed,” Ginatta had said prior to Wilson's execution.

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