Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Attorney for Virginia death row inmate argues he shouldn't be executed because of his MR diagnosis

From The Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. ― A Virginia death row inmate who killed two men in Richmond cannot be executed because he is mentally disabled, his attorney told a federal appeals court Sept. 22.

A lawyer for the state countered that Darrick Walker, 37, failed to prove he is disabled through intelligence quotient tests and evidence about how well he functions in society.

Walker was convicted of killing Stanley Rogers Beale in November 1996 and Clarence Elwood Threat in June 1997. Virginia law allows the death penalty for anyone who commits two premeditated murders within three years.

Walker's attorney, Jody Kris, told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that her client met the "national consensus" for the definition of being mentally disabled. She said a lower court ignored Walker's low IQ test scores, as well as evidence of limitations in adaptive behavior.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute the insane or those with an IQ less than 70, established by the age of 18, who lack basic adaptive skills.

Steven A. Witmer, a senior assistant attorney general, argued that the evidence showed Walker was below average in intelligence but not mentally disabled.

"Darrick Walker was tested throughout his life, and he consistently scored above the range of mental retardation on IQ tests," said Witmer.

He added that the lower court also ruled correctly on Walker's adaptive behavior. The court cited, among other things, evidence of Walker's ability to commit crimes that required him to interact effectively with other people.

According to trial testimony, Walker broke into Beale's apartment and asked him, "What do you keep coming to my door for?" Beale responded that he didn't know Walker, who then shot Beale four times in front of the victim's 13-year-old daughter.

In the other shooting, Threat's girlfriend, Andrea Noble, testified that she had turned down a date invitation from Walker, who later burst into her apartment and shot Threat seven times.

The appeals court typically takes several weeks, or even months, to issue its decision.