Friday, December 4, 2009

Threading the Needle

Last month I wrote about the Supreme Court's convoluted Atkins decision from 2002, which seemingly stopped the execution of mentally retarded inmates in the country, but in reality left a hodgepodge of states interpreting what "around 70" means when it comes to I.Q. Last night the state of Texas announced loudly for all to hear exactly what it thinks about all that.

Killer With Low I.Q. Executed in Texas:

Bobby Wayne Woods was executed Thursday evening in Texas after his lawyers lost a battle to persuade the courts that he was too mentally impaired to qualify for capital punishment.

Mr. Woods, 44, was convicted of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in 1997. He received a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 6:48 p.m. in the death chamber at a state prison in Huntsville, Tex., after the United States Supreme Court denied a request from his lawyers to stay his execution. His last words, at 6:40, were: “Bye. I am ready.”

Tests administered to Mr. Woods over the years placed his I.Q. between 68 and 86, prompting a bitter debate between his lawyers and the state over whether he was too impaired to face execution.
Since we know I.Q. tests aren't reliable measures of anything remotely related to intelligence, one has to wonder why we allow such a faulty test to determine, literally, whether someone lives or dies. The states are playing a game of chance, threading the needle if you will, in determining whether someone is smart enough to kill.

What I.Q. tests do measure is how fast your brain works, and fundamentally, the difference between an I.Q. of 68 and 72, or even 80, is negligible.

The debate reflects the gray area left by the Supreme Court in 2002, when it ruled that the mentally impaired were not eligible for the death penalty but left it up to state courts to interpret which inmates qualified as impaired.

Mr. Woods’s lawyers argued that his intelligence scores were low enough that he should be spared because of the Supreme Court ban in Atkins v. Virginia. Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor who represented Mr. Woods, said in a pleading that “his I.Q. hovers around 70, the magical cutoff point for determining whether someone is mentally retarded.”

In its 2002 ruling, the Supreme Court said that to demonstrate that someone is mentally retarded, one must prove that the person has had low I.Q. scores and a lack of fundamental skills from a young age. The court said a score on intelligence tests of “around 70” indicated mental retardation.

But that standard has been applied unevenly by state courts, according to a study by Cornell law professors. Some state courts in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas have held that inmates with scores as low as 66 are not impaired, while an inmate in California with a score of 84 was declared mentally retarded.

Well, ain't that just like liberal, granola California to let all them room-temperature I.Q. criminals off? Not gonna happen in Texas, my friend.

The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, argued in a motion before the Supreme Court that the only times Mr. Woods had scored under 70 was when the test was administered by an expert for the defense. He also pointed out that Mr. Woods had successfully held jobs as a short order cook and a roofer.

“The only experts to ever conclude that Woods was mentally retarded did so after he had committed this murder and had motivation to underperform,” Mr. Abbott wrote in his brief.

Damn straight. That'll learn 'im.

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