On August 7, 2012, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Marvin Wilson for the 1992 shooting death of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont. Here is some background information on his case from his attorneys with the Texas Defender Service:
Despite enrolling in special education classes throughout his childhood, Marvin Wilson failed the 7th grade. He received mostly Ds and Fs when he repeated it, as well as when he was socially promoted to 8th and 9th grades. He dropped out of school for good in the 10th grade. Friends and family swore affidavits stating that, as a child, he frequently clamped his belt so tightly that he cut off blood circulation, that he couldn’t use simple toys such as tops and marbles, and that he sucked his thumb into adulthood. According to the mental retardation expert who assessed him, Wilson continues to be unable to perform even the simplest tasks without assistance.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court categorically barred states from executing offenders with mental retardation (Atkins v. Virginia). The Court observed that people with mental retardation are less culpable for their crimes and that they are not equipped to mount effective criminal defenses. As a result, they are particularly vulnerable to wrongful convictions, inflated culpability assessments, and erroneous findings of leadership in multi-party crimes. In defining mental retardation, the Supreme Court relied on the clinical criteria set forth by the leading clinical authorities, including what was then known as the AAMR (the American Association on Mental Retardation). The AAMR thereafter changed its name to the AAIDD (the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities).
Marvin Wilson was diagnosed with mental retardation by Dr. Donald Trahan, a court-appointed, board certified neuropsychologist with 22 years of clinical experience as a mental retardation specialist. At Wilson’s hearing to determine whether he had mental retardation, the state presented no evidence whatsoever; it has never offered any expert opinion, in any form, challenging Dr. Trahan’s clinical diagnosis. In the absence of judicial or executive intervention, Wilson will be put to death next week, despite this diagnosis.
Utilizing the AAMR/AAIDD’s clinical criteria for mental retardation, Dr. Trahan met with Wilson for eight hours, reviewed his school and medical records, and administered or evaluated a battery of leading neuropsychological testing. He examined Wilson’s memory, language development, adaptive skills, conceptual reasoning, practical skills and other scientifically-recognized indicia of mental functioning. Taking into account all of that data, Dr. Trahan concluded that Wilson clearly had mild mental retardation.
Texas, however, has translated the Supreme Court’s categorical ban on executing offenders with mental retardation in a way that does not, in practice, exempt most offenders with that intellectual disability. Instead, Texas has improvised a set of “Briseño factors” (named after the Texas decision that announced them) to determine which defendants with mental retardation are protected from execution. The Briseño factors are not used by any scientists or clinicians in medical practice, and they are not recognized by the AAMR/AAIDD.
As the AAIDD wrote in their recent brief in Chester v. Thaler, another case involving the Briseño factors that is pending before the Supreme Court: “[The Texas] impressionistic ‘test’ directs fact-finders to use ‘factors’ that are based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.”
Attorneys for Wilson have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to consider whether the Briseño factors represent an unreasonable application of the Supreme Court’s categorical Eighth Amendment rule against executing offenders with mental retardation.