Refused by Supreme Court: Is death row inmate mentally retarded?

The lawyers of a Texas death row inmate say he is ineligible for capital punishment because he is mentally retarded, but judges have disagreed. The Supreme Court won’t take up his appeal.

By , Staff writer

The US Supreme Court refused on Monday to take up the appeal of a Texas death row inmate whose lawyers say he is ineligible for capital punishment because he is mentally retarded.

Michael Hall was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1998 kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old Amy Robinson. At the time of his trial in 2000, Mr. Hall scored a 67 on an IQ test, and he could not count change or read an analog clock, his mother said. His death row nickname is “Half-Deck.”

Hall’s lawyers argued that executing their client would be cruel and unusual punishment. State and federal judges in Texas have disagreed. They have repeatedly ruled that Hall is mentally slow, but not retarded for purposes of capital punishment in Texas.

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In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that executing a person who is mentally retarded would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. But the high court left it to each state to develop adequate procedures to enforce the prohibition.

Lawyers for Hall wanted the high court to examine whether the state of Texas has adopted adequate procedures to determine who is mentally retarded and whether those procedures were followed in Hall’s case in a way that comports with constitutional safeguards.

The Supreme Court rejected Hall’s appeal without comment.

Hall was convicted of participating with a friend, Robert Neville, in the kidnapping and murder of Ms. Robinson. In a confession, Mr. Neville said the two decided one day to go out and find someone to kill. They picked Robinson because Hall, then 18, knew her from a prior job and they did not expect it would be difficult to persuade her to get into their car.

Robinson had a genetic disorder. She stood four feet, five inches tall and had the mental capacity of a third- or fourth-grader. Hall and Neville intercepted her as she rode her bicycle to work.

They drove her to a rural location and attempted to shoot her with a crossbow. The arrows missed. Hall then shot her in the leg with a pellet gun. Neville shot her in the chest with a .22 caliber rifle. Hall shot her several more times with the pellet gun. Finally, Neville shot her in the head with the rifle. They hid her body and her bicycle and were later arrested trying to cross the border into Mexico.

Neville was 23 at the time of the murder. He was executed by lethal injection in 2006.

The appeal did not seek to challenge Hall’s guilt. The only issue was whether his mental capacity is such that his execution would be cruel and unusual.

Mental retardation is generally defined as someone with an IQ test score of 70 or lower. In addition, the individual must show considerable limitations in adaptive skills in at least two areas. The skill areas include communication, self-care, home living, social interaction, self-direction, health and safety, academics, and work. Deficiencies must be present before age 18.

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