Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Texas Executes Man With IQ Of 61

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia, on Eighth Amendment grounds, that “the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.” That's "categorically" ... as in, in all cases. Yet Liliana Segura at The Nation reports that the great State of Texas has done exactly that. The Supreme Court, despite its ruling in Atkins, declined to intervene.

Marvin Wilson was a man with an IQ of 61. He sucked his thumb. There are serious questions about his alleged confession... to the wife of another defendant in the same case. There are evidentiary questions about whether he was the "trigger man" in the murder. There are similar questions based on forensic evidence about when the murder was committed... the night of the alleged assault, or the next morning. Questions, questions, questions... and no dependable answers, in part because Wilson was mentally incapable of speaking rationally in his own behalf.

Long-time readers know I have strong reservations about any use of the death penalty. This case goes far beyond those generic reservations: a society willing to execute a mentally incompetent person (even if the evidence of his guilt had been strong, which is dubious in this case) is an uncivilized society. I do not want to live in a society that executes mental incompetents, people whose culpability is severely limited by an inability to understand the consequences of their actions. Judicial executions of such people become murders in their own right, as the Supreme Court implicitly recognized in Atkins.

But it's an election year; we have a Republican governor and a conservative-dominated Supreme Court unwilling to act even based on its own recent ruling. So Marvin Wilson died as surely as his alleged victim died.

I suppose I should do my ritual denunciation of the death penalty in its role as an attempt to protect society, but I'm terribly fatigued just thinking about it. Rather than examine all the details, I'll just note that the Death Penalty Information Center shows that "[t]he murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty, and the gap has grown since 1990," a statement which they base on two presumably reliable sources: the US Census and an FBI report "Crime in the United States." 

So the death penalty has, if anything, a negative deterrent effect. That leaves vengeance as the only motivation for execution. 

How badly do you want to see people die?


  1. It's even worse than that, Steve. The state of Texas' brief to the Supreme Court (in the person of Scalia, yeah, THAT'S impartial) cited Lennie Small of "Of Mice and Men" as a justification for execution. Steinbeck's son put out an eloquently pissed off statement in response.

  2. There is no end to the revulsion. Texas, I believe, has the highest execution rate in the country. Rick Perry like his predecessor has a fetish for death. Shame, shame on Texas

  3. karmanot, without denying what you say, I am compelled to remind you that California is no paragon of virtue either when it comes to the death penalty. "Get thine own house in order" before you blame all Texans, including innocent Texans, and believe me, there are plenty of innocent Texans.

  4. Constance, I suppose that means one can accurately say that in Texas, justice is a fiction. Thanks for the reminder.

    Aside to karmanot: FWIW, Constance is (was?) a Texan. Many, many of us here disapprove of the state's rampant, irrational imposition of the death penalty. I could try to tell you why we lose out to the more bloodthirsty among us, over and over, but there isn't space enough in a comment. Just... trust me on this. Texas weights votes heavily in favor of rural voters, and that affects everything.

  5. I understand and agree. Shame on
    California as well with its police state paramilitary forces. Death by cop is unusually high here. I realize as do you that people of conscience are not in charge of the death cult that grips us.

  6. If you had posted this poor dude's photo, everybody expressing their revulsion would know why Texas executed Marvin Wilson. Hint: He wasn't exactly up for membership in the Aryan Nations.

    If a man with an IQ of 61 is a) in Texas, b) on death row, and c) *IS BLACK*, fugghedaboutit. He's dyin'. Every redneck mofo in the state is gonna make sure of that, and dis-elect any judge or politician who dares question their judgement that scary ni[CLANG!] need to just be killed, already.

    Bigotry? What, in Texas? Ya don't say!

    - Badtux the Snarkily Disgusted Penguin

  7. And you believe California is different, Badtux? Racism manifests its ugly violent consequences everywhere in America. According to the map by Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2011, Texas supported 45 recognized "hate groups" while California supported 84 such groups. Which state is populated with more racists? "Get thine own..." ah, fuck; never mind.

  8. Yah, the Central Valley and Orange County are full of Okies. Buncha inbred shitkickers, yo. But they generally don't make the laws nor control the courts here in Cah-lee-foh-nee-ah, like they do there in Texas. There's exceptions, but that's the general rule here.

    - Badtux the *FORMER* Texan Penguin

  9. BadTux, did you look at the maps of TX and CA? The groups are all over the fuckin' map in both states; it would be hard to make a credible argument that racism is confined by region in either place. And of course no one has access to accurate member counts anywhere; those bastards don't exactly advertise their personal affiliation for public consumption.

    The SPLC group count does include Black separatist groups like Nation of Islam; CA has almost THREE TIMES as many of those as TX. Apart from that, CA has fewer Klans but more skinhead, white patriot and nazi groups than TX. Face it: there's no lack of scary people in either state. Stereotyping the people of either state is unhelpful.

  10. But what I'm saying is that those racist mofos aren't running the state here in California, and from what I can tell, they *are* running the state there in Texas. Between the evangelical nutcases and the redneck white trash, Texas politics is well and truly sickening.

    And if you're running the state, ya don't need to create a group to uphold your belief that blacks are all thugs and if a black man is on death row, it doesn't matter whether he was guilty or innocent, that's just one less scary ni[CLANG] to worry 'bout. I mean, there's certainly been plenty of white trash executed too in Texas, but you look at this dude's picture... man. That was a dead man walkin' from the moment the cops picked him up.

    - Badtux the Former Texan Penguin

  11. Badtux, I certainly cannot defend the government of Texas. In defense of its people, I can only say that they may not have really elected that government: if Texas had not been successfully gerrymandered TWICE in the last decade, with the help of some federal courts, the state would be a lot closer to evenly matched between D and R officeholders. Contrary to popular belief, cheaters ALWAYS win.

    Back when I owned property near Lake Livingston, I considered "moving" up there; my vote would have been worth about 1½ times what it is in Houston. But it would have been illegal, considering I actually live in Houston... illegal in a way that would never have troubled a GOPer.

  12. In the U.S., Death Penalty Is a
    Continuation of Racial Segregation:


    Even Albania and Rwanda have abolished the capital punishment:

    Please have a look what Texas looks like:

  13. jams and Enfant, and everyone:

    I agree that the death penalty here or anywhere else is "an utter disgrace."

    I have spent many evenings and more than a few dollars over the years trying to stop it... all to no avail.

    I have been aware of the racist aspects of Texas's application of the death penalty for DECADES: I do not suffer from a lack of information; further information does not help me to do more to combat it. I am a source of information for other people as often as I can be.

    I know what Texas is like. I live here. I change what I can. I cannot move... even a move across town would probably kill me in my current condition... so I'm in Texas from now on. The great state and I will just have to live with each other.

  14. Prophets live in Texas too! Peace, my friend. Even while our efforts are great and greatly marginalized as long as we write about justice in graffiti on the walls of empire, history will hear our cries.

  15. The only reason Florida didn't catch up with Texas under the other Bush is that the Florida prison officials are so incompetent that they can't execute people in accordance with state law. They failed to properly maintain the electric chair, so that screwed up, and now they can't find minimally competent people to administer lethal injections.

    Florida keeps putting people on Death Row, but the prison system is so corrupt that it is unlikely we will ever see another execution.

    The private prison industry will probably get it eliminated as it reduces their profit margin. Prisons in Florida have little to do with justice - they are profit centers.

  16. Bryan, I've read the same about the private prison industry take on the death penalty. I don't know the situation when prisons are privatized, but given state-run prisons, it has been established more than once that, considering the years-long appeals process in some cases, the cost of administering a life-without-parole punishment is less than the total cost of execution. (Some states addressed that problem by severely restricting appeals, but come on... then it really IS state-sanctioned murder.)

    In this case, though, the true horror is that a mental incompetent is presumed incapable of making sound moral judgments about his actions. Even the Supreme Court said so in Atkins, and they are typically all too ready to "tinker with the machinery of death" (Justice Harry Blackmun).



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