Texas is scheduled to execute Marvin Wilson later today for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont. Although Wilson has an I.Q. of 61, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded, Wilson faces lethal injection because the state of Texas uses unscientific guidelines to determine which defendants with intellectual disability are protected from execution. These guidelines, called “the Briseño factors,” after the decision that announced them, rely on stereotypes about mental retardation to exclude all but the most severely incapacitated from their constitutional protection against execution.
In formulating the “the Briseño factors,” a Texas court wrote that “most Texas citizens would agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt from execution. But does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?”
John Steinbeck’s son has released the following statement about the Marvin Wilson case and the Briseño decision, which cites his father’s work:
“On behalf of the family of John Steinbeck, I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an I.Q. of 61. Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e, Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men, as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”
– Thomas Steinbeck
Marvin Wilson’s scheduled execution has been condemned by numerous prominent groups and organizations, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis, Texas Representative Lon Burnam, and others. The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News have editorialized that the execution must be stopped.