Daryl Atkins, the defendant in the 2002 Supreme Court case (Atkins v. Virginia) that banned the execution of the mentally retarded, had his death sentence reduced to life without parole after a Virginia judge heard that evidence had been withheld from his trial attorneys. Sentenced to death for the 1996 robbery and murder of Eric Nesbitt, Atkins received much attention because of his mental limitations and the question of whether it was constitutional to execute those with mental retardation. Atkins, however, was not spared because of his mental retardation. Instead, Atkins received his reprieve because an attorney for the co-defendant in the case revealed that prosecutors had not disclosed the whole story of his client’s involvement in the crime.

Atkins and his codefendant in the murder, William Jones, both admitted to taking part in the crime, but each said the other did the actual shooting. Jones’ testimony against Atkins was key in Atkins’ conviction. At a hearing on Atkins’ mental retardation, it was revealed that prosecutors coaxed and coached Jones when he was making his statement against Atkins, and that there was a 16-minute gap in the taped statement where Jones’ statement did not align with the prosecutor’s theory of the case. Judge Prentis Smiley, Jr., who was presiding over the hearing, stated, “The court finds that had he [Atkins’s attorney] been given the evidence, the outcome might have been different.” The judge then vacated Atkins’ death sentence because of the improprieties at the original trial.

Joseph Migliozzi, Atkins’ attorney, said, “We’re relieved. We believe the judge took this very seriously, and we feel that he arrived at the fair and appropriate decision.”
(“Death Sentence Commuted In Va. Case,” by Donna St. George, Washington Post, January 18, 2008). See Mental Retardation, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and Supreme Court.