Supreme Court to ex­am­ine Texas man’s death sen­tence

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael Graczyk

HOUSTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is set to ex­am­ine whether the na­tion’s busiest state for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is try­ing to put to death a con­victed killer who’s in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled, which would make him in­el­i­gi­ble for ex­e­cu­tion un­der the court’s cur­rent guid­ance.

Lawyers for pris­oner Bobby James Moore, 57, con­tend that the state’s high­est crim­i­nal court, the Texas Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals, ig­nored cur­rent med­i­cal stan­dards and re­quired use of out­dated stan­dards when it de­cided Moore isn’t men­tally dis­abled. That rul­ing re­moved a le­gal hur­dle to Moore’s ex­e­cu­tion for the shot­gun slay­ing of a Houston store clerk in 1980.

The Texas court is a “con­spic­u­ous out­lier ” Moore among state courts and “defies both the Con­sti­tu­tion and com­mon sense,” Clifford Sloan, Moore’s lead lawyer, told the jus­tices in writ­ten briefs sub­mit­ted ahead of Tues­day’s sched­uled oral ar­gu­ments. Such a “head-in-the-sand ap­proach ig­nores ad­vances in the med­i­cal com­mu­nity’s un­der­stand­ing and as­sess­ment of in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity over the past quar­ter cen­tury,” he wrote.

Moore’s lawyers want his death sen­tence set aside, con­tend­ing his pun­ish­ment would vi­o­late the Con­sti­tu­tion’s ban on cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment and the Supreme Court’s 2002 rul­ing in a North Carolina case that pro­hib­ited ex­e­cu­tion of the men­tally dis­abled.

The Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice says the state “fully com­plies” with Supreme Court prece­dents. The state points to its use of 1992 clin­i­cal def­i­ni­tions for in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity as cited by the high court in its 2002 de­ci­sion. And the of­fice says it has con­sulted and con­sid­ered more re­cent stan­dards.

The ques­tion be­fore the high court “rests on a false premise,” Texas Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Scott Keller said, ar­gu­ing that Moore’s claim of in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity is re­futed “un­der any rel­e­vant stan­dard.” Texas uses a three-pronged test to de­fine in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity: IQ scores, with 70 gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a thresh­old; an in­mate’s abil­ity to in­ter­act with oth­ers and care for him or her­self; and whether ev­i­dence of de­fi­cien­cies in ei­ther of those ar­eas oc­curred be­fore age 18.

Since the Supreme Court al­lowed cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to re­sume in 1976, Texas has car­ried out 537 ex­e­cu­tions. Moore ar­rived on death row in July 1980, and only five of the state’s some 250 con­demned in­mates have been there longer.

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