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Supreme Court To Hear Texas Case Challenging Texas Death Row Standards

Ryan Poppe
Texas Death Row Inmate Bobby Moore

How Texas determines whether someone has the intellectual capacity to be sentenced to death is being examined by the nation’s highest court on Tuesday.  The Supreme Court made it clear no person with intellectual disabilities is to be executed but how Texas determines who fits that criteria is what is at stake this week.

In 1980, Bobby Moore was convicted for shooting a store clerk during a Houston robbery and later sentenced to die.  Moore’s IQ score ranges from 50 to 70 points, a person with average intelligence has an IQ score between 85 and 114.

UT Law Professor Jordan Streiker says in 2002, the US Supreme Court set guidelines stating that anyone who has an IQ score of 70 or lower and has been labeled intellectually disabled should not be executed.

But  Streiker says the ruling did not provide an outline for how states were to determine a person’s intellectual abilities.

“For example Texas says if you can respond rationally to external stimuli that suggests that you don’t deserve the exemption, Texas says if you can lie in your own interest that suggests that you don’t have an intellectual disability," Streiker explains.

Streiker criticizes Texas for creating death row exemptions that he says only “Lenny” from John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men could qualify for.

Michael Rushford is the president and CEO of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, one of the groups supporting Texas at the U.S. Supreme Court.  He says the state’s system got it right when it came to the sentencing 57 year old Bobby Moore to death.

“Moore clearly was complacent in this case, plenty of witnesses saw what he did.  And clearly the jury understood that he knew what he was doing, which is one of the test you have to make," Rushford says.

Rushford says if states followed psychiatric association’s ever-changing standards for determining a person's intellectual capacity there would never be any finality to these criminal cases.

Since the high court’s 2002 ruling, the State of Texas has moved 15 intellectually disabled inmates scheduled to die off of death row. 

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.