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June 22, 2011

Texas executes murderer despite evidence suggesting mental retardation

As detailed in this Reuters article, "Texas executed on Tuesday a man convicted of fatally shooting two people and paralyzing a third near Houston in 1998, despite evidence that he was mentally disabled." Here is more:

Milton Mathis, 32, was sentenced in 1999, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute inmates with mental disabilities. His supporters had been trying for years to argue that he should be spared. On Tuesday, a final plea to the Supreme Court to hear evidence of his mental disability was denied, and he was executed by lethal injection....

Mathis was the 23rd person executed in the United States this year and the sixth executed in Texas, the most active death penalty state in the nation. Shortly before he died, Mathis criticized the Texas death penalty as a "mass slaughter. The system has failed me. This is a miscarriage of justice," he said.... Mathis was convicted in September 1999 of opening fire on a home in Fort Bend County, west of Houston, and killing Travis Brown and Daniel Hibbard. [Melanie] Almaguer, then 15, was also shot in the head. Mathis also turned the gun on Almaguer's mother, who was in the home, but ran out of bullets, according to the state attorney general's office. He looted the home before setting it on fire, fled in Brown's car, and later told a fellow inmate that he wished he had "killed them all," according to the attorney general's office.

Most U.S. inmates with mental disabilities have been spared execution since the Supreme Court in 2002 declared it unconstitutional, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks capital punishment cases. Those who have been executed were usually cases in which the inmate's claim of mental disability was in dispute, including the Mathis case, he said....

Mathis, who had an eighth-grade education when he was convicted, has scored in the low 60s on several IQ tests -- including a 62 on a test administered by the state's prison system, according to an essay on the Stand Down Texas website by Mark White, a former Texas governor who opposed Mathis' execution. Stand Down Texas supports a death penalty moratorium in Texas. Psychology experts have routinely put the standard for mental disabilities around a 70 IQ and lower....

Texas has a particularly high burden of proof for mental disability, said Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who specializes in death penalty cases. It takes more than IQ tests, he said. Attorneys also have to prove that the inmate had disabilities before age 18, and that he or she has shown a deficit in adaptive skills, such as reading and writing and following directions.

June 22, 2011 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Sorry, anyone with the mental acuity to make the attributed statement is not so mentally impaired as to be deserving of any sort of break on account of the claimed deficit.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 22, 2011 10:10:25 AM

lol shame on on soronel. your wililng to KILL someone based on the words of a JAIL HOUSE SNITCH?

GET REAL!

what this means is that of course TEXAS has killed ANOTHER innocent!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 22, 2011 1:44:43 PM

Rod,

I would expect any last statement a condemned inmate makes to be documented. And that is the context I took those words to come from. Where do you get that they were passed on by a snitch of any form?

That is a different matter than guilt, that was not the argument being made here. The argument being made was that he committed the crime but was so mentally deficient as to be undeserving of execution.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 22, 2011 1:58:05 PM

Soronel --

The excerpt to which you apparently refer is this: "Shortly before he died, Mathis criticized the Texas death penalty as a 'mass slaughter. The system has failed me. This is a miscarriage of justice,' he said...."

There is no indication I can find, in the article as a whole or in Doug's excerpt of it, suggesting that this statement was being relayed to the reporter by a snitch. It certainly seems to have been made directly to the author of the story. And it certainly does not seem to be the sort of statement of which a mentally retarded person would be capable.

In addition, the courts had a far more extensive record upon which to base a judgment about alleged retardation than anyone commenting here.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 22, 2011 3:56:32 PM

Bill: "And it certainly does not seem to be the sort of statement of which a mentally retarded person would be capable."

me: You are absolutely and completely wrong about that - an intellectually disabled person who is functioning in the moderate or mild range of intellectual disability will be able to communicate seemingly complex thoughts in complete sentences. Also, people with intellectual disabilities do not like the "r" word, which they see as an insult. Stereotypes based on ignorance are just as damaging as stereotypes based on malice.

ginny :)

Posted by: virginia | Jun 22, 2011 5:56:08 PM

ginny --

If he was functioning, as you say, "in the moderate or mild range of intellectual disability," then he could understand why he was being punished, and was thus eligible for execution.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 22, 2011 6:41:42 PM

sorry soronel i was talking about this statment!

"later told a fellow inmate that he wished he had "killed them all," according to the attorney general's office."

i didnt' think anything about all about the first statment at his execution. For all we know someone taught him that one while he waited for his exectuion.

i still say nobody with numbers like these stated below is sane enough to know right from wrong and be executed!
except for one reason. to remove a danger to others! in which case i would expect that to be the reason given when it's done. don't try and hid it!

"Mathis, who had an eighth-grade education when he was convicted, has scored in the low 60s on several IQ tests -- including a 62 on a test administered by the state's prison system, according to an essay on the Stand Down Texas website by Mark White, a former Texas governor who opposed Mathis' execution. Stand Down Texas supports a death penalty moratorium in Texas. Psychology experts have routinely put the standard for mental disabilities around a 70 IQ and lower...."

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 23, 2011 1:27:40 AM

plus of couse if the state's policy had a cut off of 70 or lower being legally below mental lvl to execute. They are in violation of thier own policy since he was tested in the low 60's BY THEIR OWN SYTEM!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 23, 2011 1:28:51 AM

Bill, you seem to be forgetting that Atkins v. Virginia categorically banned* the execution of the intellectually disabled.

* except that it really didn't - it only banned the execution of the intellectually disabled who were young enough to be in school following the passage of IDEA and had parent[s] or guardian[s] who made sure that they received the proper testing and special education services

ginny :)

Posted by: virginia | Jun 23, 2011 6:19:49 PM

Note that, according to the leading professional organizations, an IQ score <= 70 standing alone is not enough for a diagnosis of mental retardation / intellectual disability. See, e.g., Amer. Assoc. on Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, http://www.aaidd.org/content_100.cfm?navID=21 ("Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.").

Posted by: Jason | Jun 23, 2011 9:01:12 PM

ginny --

Your understanding of Supreme Court law is incorrect, as evidenced, quite authoritatively, by the fact that the Court itself allowed this execution to go forward over exactly the argument you make.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 23, 2011 9:21:13 PM

Bill, you totally missed my point. I have no idea what the functional level of this defendant is - my point was that you cannot conclude that he is not intellectually disabled based upon that statement. You also missed my point about Atkins - under Atkins a state cannot execute someone who functions in the mild or moderate range of intellectual disability (incidentially, its extremely doubtful that someone functioning in the moderate range of ID will be found competent to stand trial). However, as I noted Atkins has not really stopped the execution of the intellectually disabled - primarily because most death row defendants come from the margins of society and lack the early records needed to show a manifestation of ID before the age of 22 (or 18 in Texas). Worse, courts often use stereotypical views of persons with ID to reach conclusions like because someone had a job before their crime they are not intellectually disabled. I do not know what happened in this case.

Jason, according to the DSM - and federal law - the manifestation of an intellectual or developmental disability is before the age of 22. Texas's use of the age of 18 is unusual but likely makes no practical difference since prior manifestations of disability are most likely to show up in school. You are also right that no one really likes IQ any more, however, there are court opinions where the difference between life and death was literally the fact that the defendant never had an IQ test before the age of 22. Do a search for any legal topic regarding intellectual disability and whether you want them or not you'll see a ton of Atkins cases - since my primary practice area is health law, Atkins is annoying at best and a menance at worst.

ginny :)

Posted by: virginia | Jun 24, 2011 8:09:04 AM

well i look at it like this! we use bright line's to condemn 100's of thousnds to the usa's sex offender hell. so why is it diff here?

the state's own rules says 70 and below is ineligble of death. their own system says he's at 62! means he's NOT ELIGIBLE!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 24, 2011 2:45:36 PM

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