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.

Clark is on death row for the 1993 murder of 17-year-old Shari Crews.  A co-defendant in a related murder was given a 20-year sentence. During psychological testing administered by Dr. Denis Keyes in 2003, Clark's mental capacities were found to be at or below roughly 92% of the U.S. population. His adaptive skills level placed him well below 1% of the general population.  Dr. Keyes said Clark's ability to conform his behavior to that expected of his same age group is "virtually nonexistent." Keyes observed that, "Individuals with mental retardation typically have severe deficits in judgment potential, and are simply unable to understand the consequences of their behaviors. People with mental retardation have several characteristics; among these are defective intellectual capacity, shorter attention spans, poor memory, poor planning ability, lack of ability to appreciate the consequences of their actions, severe learning problems, marked deficits in adaptive skill areas, and limited ability to learn from previous experience. James's background confirms problems with virtually every one of the above characteristics." Keyes concluded that Clark should be excluded from execution under both the Texas Mentally Retarded Persons Act and the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins v. Virginia.  (An earlier test had put Clark's IQ at 74, also close to the standard for mental retardation.)
(See Psychological Report filed by Dr. Denis W. Keyes, July 18, 2003, and Clark's Clemency Petition, March 21, 2007).

Clark's execution would be the 13th in the U.S. this year, with all but one occurring in Texas. A number of Texas death penalty cases have come under scrutiny this year by the courts. In the week following Clark's scheduled execution, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Panetti v. Quarterman, a Texas case that will determine whether mere awareness of one's crime can be equated with mental competence, or whether the person also needs to rationally understand what is taking place. The case will determine whether Scott Panetti, who was allowed to defend himself in his Texas trial despite his schizophrenia and 14 stints in mental hospitals, can be executed.  See Mental Retardation and Upcoming Executions.