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 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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