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Retardation' is now likely rampant on death row

By By Sid Salter/ syndicated columnist
June 26, 2002
You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you're looking for. Turn out the light, don't try to save me. You may be wrong for all I know but you may be right …
Billy Joel, 1980
News item: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 last week that executing mentally retarded criminals violates the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."
Executing a person who truly doesn't know right from wrong is indeed "cruel and unusual punishment." There is no legitimate argument in favor of executing a mentally retarded prisoner.
But let's face it, folks. State Assistant Attorney General Marvin "Sonny" White the vaunted "Dr. Death" who prosecutes Mississippi's death row appeals wasn't just whistling Dixie when he told The Associated Press in the wake of the high court's ruling: "All of a sudden everybody on death row is going to become retarded. It means a new round of appeals."
And as we learned from former President Clinton, many important determinations rest upon the answer to the definition of what "is" actually is. The Supreme Court ruling invites another endless round of appeals to determine who is and is not retarded among the death row inmates.
Process now glacier-slow
The ruling will impede the already glacier-slow pace of the death penalty process in Mississippi. Death penalty opponents will build data as one already has to bolster claims that as many as one-third of the 66 Mississippi death row inmates are mentally retarded.
From a legal standpoint in the 18 states that prohibit the execution of the mentally impaired, mental retardation is generally defined as a person having an intelligence quotient of 70 or less. Mississippi currently has no law prohibiting the execution of the mentally retarded. The state should adopt such a statute and should do so during one of the myriad of special sessions scheduled later this year.
Why? Because to fail to do so plays into the hands of those who wish to continue to impede the imposition of the death penalty in this state through the appeals process. Mississippi must define mental retardation in terms of the death penalty so that a benchmark exists to answer the inevitable appeals that will follow.
Adopting a prohibition against executing the retarded on Mississippi's death row will expedite the execution of those inmates whose mental capacity is not diminished
Executing retarded wrong
The mentally retarded those with legitimate mental impairment sufficient to render them unable to judge right from wrong should be protected from the death penalty as a matter of decency and humanity. One hears no credible argument that the mentally retarded should not be protected from execution even those who have committed heinous crimes.
Just as many death row inmates get religion at the last minute, one can almost hear the IQ points dropping at Parchman as death row inmates prepare to exhaust yet another expensive appeal that extends their time getting "three hots and a cot" compliments of Mississippi taxpayers. It becomes a game.
The retarded should be protected. But many victims fear that death penalty opponents will manipulate the Supreme Court ruling in an attempt to protect death row inmates who are of at least average intelligence. The majority of death row inmates aren't retarded they're simply mean, sorry individuals with no respect for the lives they took who should suffer the consequences.