By Nimrah Siddiqui
Texas is once again set to execute a man who may be mentally disabled.
Marvin Wilson is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on Tuesday, August 7th for the murder of Jerry Robert Williams. Mr. Wilson’s lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of his execution because he has been declared intellectually disabled. The United States Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), declared that executing persons with diminished intellectual ability is cruel and unusual punishment because, as most states recognize, their mental impairments make them less culpable.
Mr. Wilson, now 54, is a native of Beaumont, Texas. His intellectual disabilities have prevented him from achieving in school, keeping jobs, and sometimes even taking care of himself. A court-appointed neuropsychologist submitted a report in 2004 that diagnosed him with mental disabilities, measured his I.Q. at 61 (less than 70 signifies “significant impairment”), and noted that he had demonstrated impaired skills before the age of 18. Despite all the signs of Mr. Wilson’s intellectual disabilities and the diagnosis of the court-appointed neuropsychologist, the District Court of Jefferson County concluded that Mr. Wilson is not mentally retarded.
In Atkins v Virginia, the Supreme Court defined intellectual disability using clinical criteria from the American Association on Mental Retardation (now known as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities or “AAIDD”). The Court, however, did not lay down specific standards that states have to use to determine intellectual disability. As a result, states can come up with their own standards identifying whether offenders qualify as mentally disabled and what punishments may be used against them.
Texas, known for its aggressive use of the death penalty, adopted its own set of criteria called the Briseño factors, to address and interpret Atkins. These factors, however, are not supported by the AAIDD and are not used in the scientific community. In fact, the AAIDD criticized the Briseño factors in another case (Chester v. Thaler), stating that the test is “impressionistic,” and uses criteria “based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.”
Mr. Wilson’s case highlights the problems with Texas’ use of the death penalty for defendants with intellectual disabilities. Does the state of Texas have any scientific basis for using the Briseño factors?
Mr. Wilson’s lawyers have filed a petition with the US Supreme Court to stop the execution, questioning the use of the Briseño factors. The AAIDD has also spoken out about the case and has asked the State of Texas to stop the execution.
Learn more about the case: Amnesty International Fact Sheet Marvin Wilson (PDF)
Tell the State of Texas to stop the execution: Take Action Here
Tell Texas legislators to end the death penalty: View a sample letter.