18 April 2011 ~ 3 Comments

Texas Psychologist Banned from Criminal Cases

Last week, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists reprimanded psychologist George Denkowski for his unscientific testing methods in evaluating whether certain defendants in capital murder cases were intellectually disabled (and therefore ineligible for the death penalty).  As an expert witness in dozens of cases, Dr. Denkowski reportedly artificially inflated intelligence scores and deviated from the standard use of a test that evaluates adaptive behavior or life skills.  His testimony helped send at least 16 individuals to death row, 2 of whom have already been executed.

According to the Texas Tribune, “Texas defense lawyers and forensic psychologists across the nation have watched the case closely. Although Dr. Denkowski admitted no wrongdoing and defends his practice, those critical of his methods said the settlement could give those inmates still on death row an important appellate opportunity.” (“Texas Psychologist Punished in Death Penalty Cases,” April 15, 2011)

The Tribune also reports that “Other psychologists have rejected Dr. Denkowski’s methods, arguing that they have no scientific basis. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in its 2010 manual for classifying intellectual disability strongly cautioned against using Dr. Denkowski’s methods ‘until firmly supported by empirical evidence.'”

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Atkins v. Virginia (2002) prohibited the application of the death penalty to persons with intellectual disabilities but left it to states to determine the criteria for evaluating evidence of such disabilities.  The Texas Legislature still has not enacted statutory provisions governing the standards and procedures to be followed in these cases.  This session, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard testimony on House Bill 1670 by Representative Garnet Coleman, which requires a pre-trial hearing in capital cases to determine whether the defendant has intellectual disabilities.  At least 13 inmates have been removed from Texas’ death row since 2002 in compliance with Atkins.

The State Board of Examiners banned Dr. Denkowski from conducting intellectual disability evaluations in future criminal cases and levied a fine of $5,500 against him.  In exchange, it dismissed the complaints against him and allowed him to keep his license.

Read more from the Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press.

3 Responses to “Texas Psychologist Banned from Criminal Cases”

  1. Kristin 19 April 2011 at 5:00 pm Permalink

    The Texas Death Penalty Blog of the Dallas Morning News has commented on the outrageous case of Dr. George Denkowski. Read the full post at http://deathpenaltyblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/04/we-dont-kill-the-mentally-ill.html.

    You can also read more from The Investigative Fund, a project of The Nation Institute. The Fund provided support for a Texas Observer cover story by reporter Reneé Feltz, published in January 2010. The story is available at
    http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/blog/1484/death_row_psychologist_reprimanded/

  2. Kristin 26 April 2011 at 5:38 pm Permalink

    On Saturday, April 23, 2011 the Austin American Statesman featured an op-ed on the consequences of Dr. Denkowski’s unscientific evaluations from Genevieve Hearon, a long-time advocate for those with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Based on my personal experience and decades of service and policy participation in the behavioral health care field advocating on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues, I am hard-pressed to imagine a more disturbing and regressive action than executing a person who is mentally retarded under Atkins. In the eyes of the law, to do so would be unconstitutional. In our hearts, it would be inhumane and immoral.

    The courts must take a second look at the cases where Denkowski conducted the evaluations for mental retardation. This is the only way to avoid unconscionable, irreversible mistakes.”

    Read the full op-ed at http://www.statesman.com/opinion/hearon-texas-must-not-execute-the-mentally-retarded-1426875.html.

  3. Kristin 26 April 2011 at 8:31 pm Permalink

    The Texas Tribune reports that Harris County still hired Dr. Denkowski to conduct evaluations of death row inmates even after he had been rebuked by a state judge.

    Read the full story at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-dept-criminal-justice/death-penalty/county-used-doctor-after-methods-challenged-/

    Also, Democracy Now! has conducted a lengthy interview with
    Kathryn Kase, attorney with the Texas Defender Service; Dr. Jerome Brown, a clinical psychologist who worked as an expert for the defense on five death penalty cases in which Denkowski worked for the prosecution; and Renee Feltz, new Democracy Now! producer. Her exposé of Dr. Denkowski for The Texas Observer magazine, supported by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, was a finalist for a 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award.

    Watch/listen to it now at http://www.democracynow.org/seo/2011/4/21/dr_death_agrees_to_stop_evaluating.