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Tuesday, June 12 12:01 AM EST

Texas Votes to Spare Retarded Killers

By JD Sallen

Austin, TX - Texas would ban executions of mentally retarded murderers under a bill the State House of Representatives approved today.  "This is a statement of our public policy," said Representative Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat with an IQ of 65, who sponsored the Give 'em the chair!measure.  "It is wrong to execute a person who is mentally retarded."

Republicans, however, fear a loophole would be created for those accused of capital crimes to plead what they dub "temporary retardation," in an effort to be spared the death penalty.  Professor Lee Ward Prique, of the University of Texas, said the inclusion of an anti-temporary retardation statute could break the impasse.  "One must also consider that if a defendant is smart enough to try to cop such a plea he can't be stupid," he said.

Legal scholars, however, disagree on the constitutionality of an anti-temporary retardation statute.  Dr. Philipa Needle, professor of law at Southern Methodist University, said that the constitution protects clinically retarded people.   "The constitution is just very hard on your run-of-the-mill dumb-ass," she said while admitting, "It can be a confusingly fine line."

Under the bill, defendants convicted of murder but found to be mentally retarded would be given 7 years to earn a college degree, thereby becoming productive members of society, or face having their case reviewed.

Governor Rick Perry has indicated that he wants to wait for a United States Supreme Court ruling on such executions. "They're the final word when it comes to retardation," he said.

Six mentally retarded people have been among the 246 people executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.  Former Governor Bush originally sought to increase that number.  "I'm against quotas," said Bush, "however, it seems as if our retarded neighbor folks are being underrepresentated (sic) in this category."   Bush empanelled a Blue Ribbon committee to study ethical ways of "recruiting retarded criminals."

Republican Representative Harry Staffer has a further concern.  "Our constitution is based on the principle that it's better to let a hundred guilty people go free than to execute one innocent person.  But in this case you risk having a hundred guilty retarded people running around.  I don't believe Texans are willing to take that chance."

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