Tuesday evening’s state-sanctioned murder of Marvin Lee Wilson, a Black man legally diagnosed as mentally retarded, has many questioning whether his legal rights were violated.
“That neither the courts nor state officials stopped this execution is not only a shocking failure of a once-promising constitutional commitment, it is also a reminder that as a society, we haven’t come quite that far in understanding how so many of those around us live with intellectual disabilities,” lead defense attorney Lee Kovarsky surmised after the court’s denial of a last-effort appeal.
Fourteen minutes after being injected with the toxic tonic that eventually stopped his bodily functions, the 54-year-old was pronounced dead at 6:27 p.m., local time at a Texas state prison in Huntsville.
“Y’all do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint. Take me home, Jesus! Take me home, Lord! Take me home, Lord!” were reportedly Wilson’s final words.
Wilson and co-defendant Andrew Lewis were convicted for the November 1992 murder of Jerry Williams in Beaumont, near Houston. They had accused the 21-year-old of snitching to law enforcement about some cocaine transactions that had resulted in Wilson’s incarceration sometime earlier.
After reporting to his parole officer, Wilson was arrested for the murder and eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to die, while Lewis received a life term.
A litany of psychological examinations in 2004 concluded that Wilson had an I.Q. of only 61, well below the standard for “normal,” which is 70.
A 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia prohibits the death penalty being imposed on individuals verified to be mentally disabled. This was the primary point Wilson’s lawyers made as they attempted to preserve their client’s life.
But the judgment allows for local states to utilize their own discretion, noting, “Legal criteria generally conform to clinical definitions issued by the American Association on Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association.”
Edward Marshall, a Texas assistant attorney general, said other factors besides Wilson’s I.Q. played a part in the decision process, including sociability.
“Wilson habitually gave less than full effort and was manipulative and deceitful when it suited his interest, and the state considered his ability to show personal independence and social responsibility in making its determinations,” Marshall said.
He continued, “Considering Wilson’s drug-dealing, street gambler, criminal lifestyle since an early age, he was obviously competent at managing money and not having a 9-to-5 job is no critical failure. Wilson created schemes using a decoy to screen his thefts, hustled for jobs in the community and orchestrated the execution of the snitch, demonstrating inventiveness, drive and leadership.”
Kovarsky argued, “Wilson’s language and math skills never progressed beyond an elementary school level. He reads and writes below a second-grade level and he was unable to manage his finances, pay bills or hold down a job.”
The courts contend that Wilson’s claim was based on a single test and that his mental impairment plea wasn’t supported by other examinations and assessments.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Wilson’s request for a stay of execution less than two hours prior to the lethal injection being administered.
Kovarsky said he was “gravely disappointed and saddened” by the ruling, saying it was “outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution.”