death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 27


URGENT ACTION APPEAL- From Amnesty International USA

27 November 2009

UA 317/09 Death penalty

TEXAS– Bobby Wayne Woods (m) Bobby Wayne Woods, a 44-year-old white man,
is due to be executed in Texas on 3 December, his third execution date in
two years. He was convicted in 1998 of the murder of a young girl in 1997.
His lawyer is appealing for clemency on the grounds that Woods has
learning disabilities.

Bobby Woods was sentenced to death for the murder of 11-year-old Sarah
Patterson, who was killed after being taken with her nine-year-old brother
from the trailer where they lived with their mother, Woods's former
girlfriend. His death sentence was upheld on state and federal appeal.

In June 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court outlawed the
death penalty for people who have "mental retardation" on the grounds that
their reduced moral culpability and increased vulnerability rendered
excessive a punishment supposedly reserved for the "worst of the worst"
crimes and offenders. A new appeal was filed for Bobby Woods raising the
claim that he had mental retardation. At a hearing in the state trial
court, a clinical psychologist testified for the defense that, in his
opinion, Bobby Woods qualified as "mildly mentally retarded," with an IQ
of 68 and limitations in adaptive skill areas (see overleaf). He also
pointed to an assessment done by another psychologist in 1997 placing
Woods's IQ at 70. The state presented evidence to contest this, the court
ruled against Woods, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA)
agreed. Appeals to the federal courts were unsuccessful.

Bobby Woods's clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
appeals for greater flexibility than the courts have been able or willing
to apply: "While the law requires aspiring to a bright line rule – those
who – are- or -are not- mentally retarded – mercy does not. If Mr Woods is
not "mentally retarded" he is without question severely impaired in his
intellectual and daily functioning, and Atkins' reasoning applies." The
petition cites evidence of Woods's mental impairment, as a child
struggling to keep up even in special education, and as an adult. It also
raises the question of Bobby Woods's legal representation during the
appeals process, and in the initial legal challenges under the Atkins v.
Virginia ruling. The lawyer in question visited Bobby Woods only once in
the 10 years he represented him, and filed an ill-prepared petition for
the state appeal process. For the legal challenge under the Atkins ruling,
he presented only one witness, the clinical psychologist, but failed
adequately to support him or present other witnesses or evidence to
challenge the state. This lawyer became one of only two lawyers to have
been removed from the TCCA's list of attorneys deemed qualified to
represent death row prisoners in their state appeals. After taking on
Bobby Woods's case, his current lawyer found further evidence to support
the mental retardation claim, including an IQ score of 60 from his
childhood. However, because there had already been a review of the Atkins
claim, a stricter standard applied to any further review. The courts
rejected the appeal.


In its Atkins v Virginia ruling, outlawing the execution of people with
mental retardation, the US Supreme Court did not define mental
retardation, although it pointed to definitions used by professional
bodies. Under such definitions, mental retardation is a disability,
manifested before the age of 18, characterized by significantly
sub-average intellectual functioning (generally indicated by an IQ of less
than 70) accompanied by limitations in two or more adaptive skill areas
such as communication, self-care, work, and functioning in the community.
The Court left it to individual states to develop "appropriate ways" to
comply with the ruling.

Before the Atkins decision, Texas accounted for nine of 44 of the USA's
executions since 1977 of people documented as having mental retardation,
more than any other state. More than seven years after the Atkins ruling,
the Texas legislature has still not enacted a law to comply with the
ruling. In the absence of legislation, in 2004 the TCCA took it upon
itself to issue guidelines for Texas trial courts in making retardation
determinations. In 2007, the TCCA emphasized that its 2004 guidelines were
intended only to be temporary pending action by the state legislature.
Nearly three years later, the legislature has still not acted on this.
Meanwhile, the TCCA guidelines, according to a recent study, "present an
array of divergencies from the clinical definitions in applying Atkins."

Amnesty International opposes unconditionally the execution of Bobby
Woods, as it does every execution, regardless of the seriousness of the
crime or the culpability of the condemned. To end the death penalty is to
abandon a destructive, diversionary and divisive public policy that is not
consistent with widely held values. It not only runs the risk of
irrevocable error, it is also costly, to the public purse as well as in
social and psychological terms. It has not been proven to have a special
deterrent effect. It tends to be applied in a discriminatory way, on
grounds of race and class. It denies the possibility of reconciliation and
rehabilitation. It promotes simplistic responses to complex human
problems, rather than pursuing explanations that could inform positive
strategies. It prolongs the suffering of murder victims' families, and
extends that suffering to the loved ones of the condemned prisoner. It
diverts resources that could be better used to work against violent crime
and assist those affected by it.

In addition to seeking commutation, Bobby Woods's lawyer has asked the
parole board to grant a 60-day reprieve so that she can make a videotape
to present to them. She has told the board that to fully understand the
extent and nature of Mr Woods' disabilities, it is necessary to meet him,
or at a minimum, observe him interacting with other people." She was
denied access by the prison authorities for this purpose (some interview
footage of Bobby Woods is available at
Her clemency petition also includes examples of the "childlike" letters
written by Woods from death row. A letter he wrote in 2000 to his mother
includes: "the puzzle books you got me I have did them all can you send me
some more as soon as you can ok mom do you see the fun puzzles I would
like to get some if you can fine [sic] them." In a letter in April 2002,
he wrote: "can you see if you can fine [sic] me some coloring books
anything will do ok mom anything." The USA has carried out 1,184
executions since resuming judicial killing in 1977. Texas accounts for 446
of these executions and 23 of the 48 executions carried out in the USA
this year. Texas has carried out 207 executions since Governor Rick Perry
took office in December 2000 (see Too much cruelty, too little clemency:
Texas nears 200th execution under current governor, 30 April 2009,

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:

– Recognizing the serious crime in this case and the suffering caused;

– Noting evidence that Bobby Woods has mental retardation, and that while
the courts may lack flexibility when seeking to determine who is exempted
from execution under Atkins v. Virginia, the clemency authorities should

– Expressing concern that the performance of his initial appeal lawyer may
have prejudiced his case;

– Calling for clemency for Bobby Woods and for commutation of his death


Rissie L. Owens, Presiding Officer
Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, TX 78757

Fax: 1 512 467 0945

Salutation: Dear Ms Owens

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Fax: 1 512 463 1849

Salutation: Dear Governor


Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 3
December 2009.


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This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact
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with this appeal.

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