execution intellectual disabilities Mark White Texas

Former Governor Mark White Calls for Review for Milton Mathis

In an op-ed appearing today in the Dallas Morning News (“Justice demands a review in Texas death penalty case,” June 17, 2011), former Texas Governor Mark White calls for a federal review in the case of Milton Mathis, who is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas next Tuesday, June 21, 2011, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.   According to IQ tests, his childhood school records, and other evidence of adaptive deficits, Mathis clearly meets the criteria for mental retardation.  Yet as Governor White explains, his appeals have been denied because of timelines, not the merits of his claims.

Here is a long excerpt from the op-ed (the full text is available to Morning News subscribers only):

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled almost a decade ago that the execution of those with mental retardation is unconstitutional. Unfortunately for Mathis, this ruling came weeks after his capital conviction was finalized. So Mathis has had to navigate the confusing labyrinth of state and federal law that govern legal claims after convictions in order to present the evidence of his mental retardation to a court.

When Mathis was finally able to present the evidence of his mental retardation to a state court judge, the judge agreed with the prosecution’s claim that the “gold standard” IQ test in which Mathis scored a 64 was subjective and should be ignored, signing off on the prosecution’s assertion that Mathis was not mentally retarded. Furthermore, because of the complex interaction of state and federal procedure, a federal judge mistakenly cut off Mathis’ chance to have evidence of his mental retardation heard in federal court, despite the fact that he has a right to such review.

The result of these procedural mistakes and misapplications of the law is that Mathis could be unconstitutionally executed without the chance he deserves to present evidence of his mental retardation in federal court.

A petition will be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting that they order a hearing in federal court to consider the evidence that Mathis has mental retardation. The Supreme Court should grant the petition so that this evidence can be fully considered.

If the court refuses to order an examination of the evidence, justice can still be done if Gov. Rick Perry stays the execution so that his office can make an independent inquiry into the procedures and facts surrounding Mathis’ death sentence. The governor of Texas is authorized by law to take action to prevent precisely this sort of injustice. Perry has correctly refused to grant clemency in cases where all the evidence has been reviewed fully and fairly. But this is not such a case. The review is not complete, and the evidence has not been fully heard.

The fairness of Texas’ death penalty depends on a complete review of the evidence in this case.

Read an editorial from the Houston Chronicle about this case.