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.

theGrio explains:

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.

What do you think? Should states rethink the death penalty?

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  • Absolutely not, if he is mentally challenge than punishing him let alone killing him is a waste and cruel punishment.

  • Tracie

    now watch I bet the gunman from the Colorado shooting will be put in a mental asylum because he was “claimed” to have a mental illness for killing innocent movie goers but this man is sentenced to death…..

    • Nadell

      i thought the same.
      @Samira – exactly

    • Mademoiselle

      Different states, possibly different outcomes. Had the Aurora incident been in Texas, or vice versa, you could have made a stronger connection between the two. But if Holmes ends up in an asylum, it could very well be because Colorado is much more anti-capital punishment than Texas, which does everything big.

  • Samira

    It’s funny how America constantly criticise nations for the way they treat their prisoners when the same ‘hero’ that love to ‘help, save and free people’ are about to execute a man who might not even know right from wrong.

    The USA needs to get their house in order before they meddle in other affairs.

  • Mademoiselle

    So the argument here is that mental illness makes it inhumane to apply capital punishment? What if his mental state is irreversible? Is it more humane to keep him locked in an asylum for the rest of his life? What if he also poses a threat to the residents of that asylum? We potentially would be throwing good money at bad. The asylum, nor prison, would be able to rehabilitate him. He allegedly poses a threat to society, yet something about his mental condition gives us pause in the decision to take his life. Why is that? Is his life more precious now that he’s an unstable convict than it was when he was a carefully thought out convict? Are we saying it’s ok to give him a pass because he didn’t know better even if his not knowing any better threatens those in his path?

    I’m actually anti-CP, but I ask these questions because it seems a little off that we’re willing to save the life of someone who is incapable of positive or even neutral contributions to society (I’m exaggerating here, considering all the article says is that he has a super low IQ), but we incarcerate and execute so many lives that are still malleable. We’re willing to spend however many resources it would take to keep this mentally retarded convict in a psych ward, yet the “rehabilitation” aim of any detention center is laughable for mentally average criminals. It’s just weird.

    • Jasmine Latriece

      Wow. I’m pro-CP but I’ve never seen this side of the argument expressed. I’m completely floored at the new perspective and I totally agree. Thank you for commenting – I never thought I’d hear anything new in the death penalty debate.

  • Dalili

    I’m torn regarding capital punishment. I think the perpetrators(at least in homicide cases) deserve the same consideration they show their victims; perhaps watching enough episodes of the First 48 Hrs, Forensic Science, Dateline, 48hrs etc have blunted my sympathy. On the other hand, I think what good does it do to take another life? It certainly doesn’t ease the pain for the victims’ families and that maybe just maybe the cruelest punishment would be to take away someone’s freedom. But what then of repeat offenders?

    I don’t know… the end I think if the respective states have proved their cases beyond a shadow of a doubt, the decision for capital punishment should be left to the victims families.