Death and Texas

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Death and Texas

Yesterday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentence of a mentally retarded man, removing him from death row for the third time. It's an interesting case and pretty much lays out my strongest objections to the death penalty-- the judicial system as it stands is too screwed up, fraught with too many inequities, to be in charge of sentencing people with death.

Here's a little background as well as a nice quote from my buddy David about the Penry case.
[John Paul] Penry was convicted of murdering 22-year-old Pamela Moseley Carpenter. Carpenter was able to describe her assailant before dying, leading Livingston police to arrest Penry, who was on parole for rape charges at the time. He confessed to the rape and murder.

[William Lee Hon, assistant district attorney of Polk County] said Penry has gone through six jury trials, three to determine competency to stand trial and three to determine guilt.

Penry was convicted and sentenced to death in his first two trials. The Supreme Court overturned both decisions, citing problems with the instructions given to jurors in regards to Penry's alleged retardation.

In 1999, before the Supreme Court's second decision to overturn the sentencing, Amnesty International, a human rights group that opposes the death penalty, wrote a statement appealing to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The statement described Penry's childhood.

"Sometimes his mother would make him eat his own feces. At other times, after he had urinated in the toilet, she would put some in a cup and make him drink it. ... Neighbors would later tell of the toddler's daily 'terrible, terrible screams.'"

David Elliot, the spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said he believes Texas needs a definition of mental retardation and that Penry is mentally retarded.

"He's tested below 70 [on an IQ test], believes in the Easter bunny and plays with crayons," Elliot said.
So Penry is retarded as well as abused. The majority of death row inmates were abused as children, have low IQs and/or brain damage, is that a coincidence? There is a strong correlation, a likely causation, between child and abuse and adult sociopathic behavior. It doesn't mean he's not guilty of his crime, it doesn't mean that he and other rapists/murderers like him aren't, for lack of a better term, "monsters," but it does call into question their extent of their culpability.

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