Although thousands of concerned citizens urged the state not to kill Marvin Wilson, a man with an IQ of only 61, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the final appeal less than two hours before he was put to death. At 6:27 p.m. last night, Wilson was pronounced dead, 14 minutes after Texas began his execution by lethal injection.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that the Eighth Amendment of the constitution prohibits “excessive punishment” for prisoners who are deemed intellectually disabled. However, the Supreme Court left it up to the states to develop their own set of determining factors for who will be exempt from execution under this statute. Other states developed statutes to help courts in these kinds of cases, but Texas has failed to enact such a law. Instead, they set up temporary guidelines, called Briseño factors, which no other state uses, to test for mental impairment. Although Wilson has a history of struggling in school, has scored low on intelligence tests, and struggles with everyday tasks like tying his own shoes, Texas courts did not feel that he was low functioning enough to spare the death penalty.
Lee Kovarsky, one of Wilson’s lawyers, released the following statement:
“It is outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines, called the Briseño factors, to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution. The Briseño factors are not scientific tools, they are the decayed remainder of an uninformed stereotype that has been widely discredited by the nation’s leading groups on intellectual disability, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. That neither the courts nor state officials have 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.”
(Photo of Marvin Wilson courtesy of Amnesty USA)