Procedural Limitations May Allow Texas Inmate with an Intellectual Disability to be Executed

In 2002 the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute individuals with intellectual disabilities. In spite of this ruling, Texas appears poised to execute Milton Mathias. Mathias, whose I.Q. of 62 places him well below the guidelines established in Atkins v. Virginia, was convicted in 1999 . A recent op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle, offers a brief overview of Mathias’ case, including a report by an experienced f0rensic psychologist that Mathias has an intellectual disability. The author of the article also points out that the federal judge who denied a stay of execution for Mathias failed to realize that her ruling would preclude litigation in state district court. By the time the judge realized her error, the case had moved out of her jurisdiction. With the execution scheduled for today, Mathias’ fate now rests in the hands of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and Governor Rick Perry. In speaking about the case,  Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, pointed out, “What is really troubling is that in this case process has trumped substance. The evidence of mental retardation is compelling, overwhelming, and, because the state courts heard it, the federal courts have not allowed the evidence to be introduced.”

As much as we all wish Milton Mathias’ story to be an isolated incident, we know that it is not. Whether by error or intent, people with intellectual disabilities are sentenced to death and executed in our country every year. Our system is not  fail-safe, nor will it ever be. Allowing the execution of someone with an intellectual disability reflects a facet of our national psyche unbecoming of a civilized society.

The issue is not accountability. If someone is found competent to stand trial, then he or she can be found guilty and sentenced for the crime.  Society must be protected from dangerous individuals.  The question is not about  guilt or innocence, but sentencing.  Do we really believe that people with intellectual disabilities or those suffering from psychotic delusions because of a severe mental illness are the worst of the worst and should be executed when there are other sentences available?  Is this the kind of society we want to be?

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