Black men with mental disabilities are murdered in this country at an alarming rate. Their killers, more often than not: The state corrections facility.

“Executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional. The grey area is that the Supreme Court allows the states to define intellectual disability, leaving an opening for Texas to create a standard based partly on ‘Of Mice and Men.’ With its decision in Hall v. Florida two years ago, though, the Supreme Court made clear that states may not adopt definitions of intellectual disability that don’t conform to accepted scientific standards. It’s hard to come up with a less scientific standard than a novel written nearly 80 years ago. No one’s life should depend on an interpretation of Steinbeck.

Under current professional standards, a person with intellectual disability has significant deficits in intellectual functioning (IQ) and significant deficits in adaptive functioning (how well one adjusts to daily life) that manifest before the age of 18. Bobby has a clear intellectual disability that has been evident his entire life…

When he reached age 13, Bobby still didn’t know the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, or how to tell time. The school system finally acknowledged that Bobby should receive some intervention, and counselors recommended that his teachers drill him daily on this basic information. But by that point it was too late. The schools continued to socially promote him until he dropped out of school in the ninth grade.

Without support for his disability and in an effort to escape his violent home life, Bobby was left to survive on the streets. He got caught up with the wrong crowd, and at 20 years old, he followed two acquaintances who had made plans to rob a store. Bobby was armed with a shotgun, though the group just wanted money and had no intention to kill anyone. But Bobby panicked when an employee screamed, and he accidentally discharged the shotgun. He did not learn until later that his shotgun blast had hit a clerk.

Bobby was charged with homicide in 1980 and sentenced to death later that same year. He and his lawyers didn’t have a chance to present evidence of his intellectual disability until more than 20 years later, when the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that the Constitution forbids the execution of people with intellectual disability. Bobby’s attorneys then petitioned for a hearing to show that he should be exempt from the death penalty They presented evidence from multiple experts and decades of records showing Bobby’s intellectual disability. Over the years, his IQ scores have ranged from the low 50s to the 70s, with an average score of 70.66. Using the appropriate scientific standards, the judge found that Bobby met the current definition of intellectual disability and should be sentenced instead to life without parole.

But the state appealed. That’s when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals used its unscientific factors, roughly based on Lennie, to uphold Bobby’s death sentence. The court ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hall that determining intellectual disability should never be subject to a strict 70-point cutoff. In fact, when the state’s own expert tested Bobby, he scored 57.”


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