Unanimous California Ruling Allows Broad Interpretation of Mental Retardation

The California Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a defendant may be spared the death penalty because he is mentally deficient in one area, even if his IQ score falls in the normal range. The decision gives judges broader discretion to spare defendants from execution for reasons of mental impairment and clarifies a 2005 ruling that allowed those on death row to challenge their sentences on the grounds of mental retardation. The court ruled that trial courts may give greater weight to certain kinds of evidence than others because the legal definition of mental retardation does not rely on a fixed IQ score.

The California Supreme Court issued the ruling as it rejected a lower court decision that "full scale" IQ scores - composites of tests of various mental faculties - are the best way to measure intellectual functioning. The Justices ruled that courts may give greater weight to one measurement of IQ over another and that the best way to measure intellectual functioning may vary from case to case. It stated that the law should not dictate how to measure intellectual functioning.

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Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Crime that Sent an Innocent Man to Death Row

Kenneth Tinsley pleaded guilty on April 11 to the 1982 rape and capital murder of a Culpeper woman - a crime for which another man, Earl Washington Jr., spent nearly a decade on death row and was nearly executed.  Tinsley admitted to the rape of Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of 3, and conceded that DNA and other evidence could have proved his guilt of her murder.

He was sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms. Earl Washington, who is mentally retarded, had originally been convicted of the same crime and was sentenced to death before DNA evidence convinced Virginia's governor that he was innocent.  Recently, Virginia tentatively agreed to pay $1.9 million to Washington in compensation.

Tinsley, who is already serving 2 life terms for another rape in Virginia, sat in a wheelchair as he told the judge, "I'm sorry for everything I did.  The prosecutor said that he hoped the plea agreement would bring closure to the victim's family and to the community.

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Possibly Mentally Retarded Man to be Executed in Texas, Where Almost All 2007 Executions Have Occurred

If James Lee Clark is executed in Texas on April 11, he will be the 12th Texas inmate executed out of 13 executions nationwide in 2007.  According to some psychological tests, Clark has an IQ of 68 or lower, which is one of the common criteria for mental retardation.  Clark's defense team has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry to halt the execution because of the likelihood that Clark suffers from mental retardation.

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