As many of you know, I am part of an organisation called Lifelines that writes to prisoners on death row in the United States. My friend--and I do call him a friend--is in Texas. Of all the 50 states Texas executes more prisoners than the whole of the other US states combined. Many times DNA evidence has proved that they have executed the wrong person--sadly too late after the execution. There is an execution today in Texas of a man named Marvin Wilson who has been classified as mentally retarded.
According to the Guardian:
Wilson was interviewed for eight hours to test his IQ and his past school records that showed he had a reading and writing level of a seven-year-old. The young Wilson was placed in special education classes, where he was bullied by other kids who called him "stupid", "dummy" and "retarded". He was deemed unable to manage his own money and was incapable of self-direction. He could not, for instance, cut the grass or use a ladder on his own, or dress himself properly with matching socks and buttoned up shirt. The tests gave Wilson an IQ score of 61 – putting him in the lowest percentile of the population.
In 2002, the US supreme court banned executions for all such prisoners under the Eighth Amendment of the constitution that prohibits excessive punishment. The 2002 ban, in Atkins v Virginia, is categorical: individuals with mental retardation cannot be put to death. The court allowed some discretion on the part of individual states to devise procedures for administering the injunction, but no right to ignore it.
Texas took that discretion to mean – wrongly in the view of many lawyers and mental health experts – that it could set its own definition of retardation.
Instead of a clinical or scientific approach, based on widely recognized tests set out by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Texas decided to go its own way.
The determinants were posited around the character Lennie Small in Steinbeck's 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.
"Most Texas citizens," the argument ran, "might agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt" from execution. By implication anyone less impaired than Steinbeck's fictional migrant ranch worker should have no constitutional protection.
"If Wilson is executed on Tuesday, Texas will be rendering the US supreme court's Eighth Amendment prohibition on the execution of mentally retarded prisoners a prohibition in name only," said Lee Kovarsky, Wilson's lawyer.
Experts in intellectual disability have warned that Texas's unique system for defining "retardation" puts at risk many people with learning difficulties who should be covered by the constitutional ban.
I am afraid that the execution will go ahead. Please pray for Marvin and his Lifelines pen pal Pamela. Let him feel the love of God as he faces his death alone and very probably feels afraid and confused. Let him know he is not alone. Hold him in the Light and know that there is “that of God in everyone” as the Quakers say.
I especially hold Pamela in the Light as well. I know sometime in the future I will be facing what she is facing—the death of a beloved friend. It is difficult to go into a friendship knowing the other person will eventually die, but when you write to someone on death row in Texas that is what happens. But I would not trade my friendship with him for anything.
May Marvin rest in peace and may Texas wake up in peace and change the way it sees prisoners.