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Texas set to execute mentally disabled prisoner

Published time: August 06, 2012 19:47
Edited time: August 07, 2012 00:19
AFP Photo / California Department of Corrections

AFP Photo / California Department of Corrections

A medically diagnosed “mentally retarded” prisoner will be executed by lethal injection in Texas on Tuesday, even though it violates the US Constitution.

Texas rejects scientific consensus and uses its own definition of learning disabilities – based on Lennie Small, a central character in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Of Mice and Men. In Texas, those classified as “mildly retarded” may be executed.In the novel, the mentally disabled Lennie Small is executed by a friend after accidentally killing a woman on the farm where he works. Texas claims that anyone less impaired than the fictional Lennie should receive no constitutional protection from execution by the state.

But Marvin Wilson, a 54-year old man awaiting execution for the 1992 murder of a police drug informant, has been diagnosed as “mentally retarded” by the state’s own courts. In addition to a number of tests carried out by a neuropsychologist, Wilson underwent an eight-hour interview that contributed to the diagnosis. His school records show that he reads and writes on the level of a seven-year old, and was kept in special education classes.Wilson struggled with simple tasks throughout his life. Being unable to manage his own money, cut the grass, dress himself properly or use a ladder, neuropsychologists determined his IQ was in the lowest percentile of the population. But the state of Texas, applying its Lennie Small criteria, did not carry out any cognitive assessments of the prisoner, and requested no testimony.

Many details in addition to the state’s disregard of Wilson’s mental disability leave questions unanswered. Wilson was one of two perpetrators in the murder, and his mental illness likely left him more vulnerable than his accomplice. The main witness against him was the accomplice's wife, who in trying to save her husband, claims Wilson pulled the trigger. Still, Wilson is due to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday.

“If Wilson is executed on Tuesday, Texas will be rendering the US Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on the execution of mentally retarded prisoners a prohibition in name only,”

said the defendant’s lawyer.


In 2011, Texas executed 13 prisoners. Almost every year, Texas tops the list as the state with the most executions. It is also among the states with the largest population of inmates on death row, according to data from the Bureau of Justice. Wilson’s lawyer is petitioning the Supreme Court today for a stay of execution to provide additional time to prove the man’s disability.

If his petition is rejected, Wilson will be put to death in a country where the 49 other states would have let him live.

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