Marvin Lee Wilson is scheduled to die. Barring a stay of execution, the 54-year-old man will be put to death in Texas on August 7, 2012. After nearly 18-years on death row and several appeals stemming from the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams, an alleged police informant, Wilson’s life may finally come to an end.
But there’s just one problem. With an I.Q. of just 61, Wilson was diagnosed as being mentally retarded by a court-appointed neuropsychologist, leaving many to wonder if it’s ethical to execute him.
Despite his disability, his mental state hasn’t factored into his appeals thus far.
Previously, Wilson’s mental disability was not allowed to factor into his case in federal court because his lawyer at the time missed a filing deadline. His current attorney, Lee Kovarsky Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Law School, told theGrio that Wilson’s current defense team has filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We currently have a stay that accompanies those petitions before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which asks for an order commuting the sentence from death to life in prison. As an alternative we will also request a 120 reprieve, a recommendation that goes to the governor [Rick Perry] who can grant that or issue his own 30 day reprieve.”
“This is a very unique case,” says Kovarsky, “This is about as strong of an Atkins claim as you will see” referring to the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia where the Court held that executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
“Usually [Atkins] claims this strong don’t lose,” says Kovarsky. One of the unique factors in Wilson’s case which might prove a challenge in terms of reprieve from Governor Perry’s office is that, “historically his office has shown an interest in cases where there is innocence alleged. In certain Atkins claims, the mentally [disabled] are wrongly assigned leadership roles in multi-party crimes, and it’s possible that Wilson was simply, “part of the group that committed the crime but was not the shooter or principle party.” It is not known for certain whether Wilson was the shooter or simply a party to the crime.
Wilson’s attorney filed with a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that the test Texas uses to determine mental capacity is too narrow.
Although most Americans support the death penalty, more and more states are rethinking the policy. Research shows that the death penalty does little to discourage crime and it costs states more to put someone to death than to keep them incarcerated for life. Moreover, with innocent people being exonerated each year and the death penalty often disproportionally affecting the poor and minorities, many are questioning whether or not the death penalty should be in place at all.