Ignoring its own ruling that prohibits the execution of mentally retarded individuals, the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the appeal of a Texas man with an IQ of 61 convicted of murdering a police drug informant.
Following the high court’s denial, 54-year-old Marvin Wilson was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. Wilson was pronounced dead 14 minutes after being injected with a single deadly drug; he was the second Texas prisoner killed using the state’s new single-drug protocol.
Before being killed by the state for the 1992 murder of Jerry Williams, Wilson raised his head from his deathbed and nodded to his son and three sisters, who were watching through a glass window. He told them he loved them and asked them to give his mother, who was not present, “a big hug.”
“Y’all do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint,” he said, speaking his final words. “Take me home Jesus, take me home Lord, take me home Lord!”
Wilson’s attorneys based their appeal on the fact that his IQ was determined to be 61, well below 70, the threshold for mental retardation. Wilson’s IQ places him in the very bottom 1% of individuals for intellectual capacity. His reading and writing level was determined to be that of a 7-year-old child’s, and he could not hold down a job or even properly dress himself.
In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the US Supreme Court ruled that executing such individuals was a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. But Texas simply redefined retardation, based in part on the fictional character Lennie Small from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.” In establishing what are known as the Briseno factors, which Texas uses to determine whether an individual is retarded or not, the state implicitly asserts that anyone less mentally impaired than Steinbeck’s Lennie is fit for execution.
Steinbeck’s son Thomas slammed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for using Lennie as a benchmark to determine who should be executed. “I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson… I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication… as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die… The character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability.”
Lee Kovarsky, Wilson’s lead defense attorney, told the Guardian that he was “gravely disappointed and saddened” by his client’s execution. Kovarsky said it was “outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines… to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution.”
Wilson isn’t the first mentally retarded Texas convict to be executed in violation of the Supreme Court’s prohibition. Last June, Milton Mathis, who scored a 62 on the state’s own IQ test, was killed by lethal injection.