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Last Minute Call On Texas To Stay Execution Of Intellectually Disabled Man

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Texan authorities not to execute a man who has significant intellectual disabilities.

Marvin Lee Wilson, who was sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of a police drug informant in 1992, is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday.

The 54-year-old African American is due to be put to death by lethal injection. His attorneys have exhausted appeals in the Texas court system and have applied to the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the execution and review the case under precedence.

During the appeals process, a clinical neuropsychologist has concluded that he has "mental retardation." Several family members and friends also signed affidavits attesting to social behavior indicative of intellectual disability.

A decade ago, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court prohibited the execution of offenders with "mental retardation," but left it up to the individual states as to how to comply with the ruling.

In the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia case, the Supreme Court found that such a practice violates the U.S. 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."

"Marvin Lee Wilson has an intellectual disability and under U.S. law should not be executed," said Antonio Ginatta, U.S. advocacy director at HRW. "Texas is circumventing the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment," she said.

Tests revealed that Wilson has an IQ of 61, which is well under the legal standard and diagnostic range of 70 considered in Atkins.

Using the Briseño factors, however, 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.

By allowing states broad leeway to determine intellectual disability, the U.S. is violating its international obligations by permitting states to execute people with intellectual disabilities, HRW said. As part of a federal government, Texas is also obligated to abide by the ICCPR "without limitations or exceptions."

HRW opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty. This form of punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

HRW's last minute call to halt Wilson's execution follows a similar demand made by Amnesty International last week.

"While a majority of countries have stopped executing anyone, let alone people with mental disabilities, the USA continues to buck this global trend, with Texas all too often leading the way," said Rob Freer, Amnesty's U.S. researcher.

Before the Atkins ruling, Texas executed more inmates diagnosed with "mental retardation" than any other state. A decade on, its legislature has yet to enact a law to comply with Atkins, and there are fears that "temporary" guidelines developed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) in 2004 are letting the state execute offenders who should be exempted from this punishment under the Constitution, says Amnesty.

This would be the seventh execution in Texas this year, as the state heads for its 500th execution since resuming judicial killing 30 years ago.

Nationwide, 1,301 people have been executed since death penalty was reinstated in 1977, including 24 this year. Since resuming executions in December 1982, Texas accounts for 483, or more than a third, of the total.

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