commutation intellectual disabilities U.S. Supreme Court

Death sentences reduced to life due to intellectual disabilities

Two men have been removed from death row in Texas in recent weeks based on evidence of their intellectual disabilities. The commutations stem from the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Moore v. Texas, which requires the state to use current medical standards in assessing intellectual disabilities.

Two men have been removed from death row in Texas in recent weeks based on evidence of their intellectual disabilities: Pedro Sosa and Robert Campbell. Respectively, Sosa and Campbell spent 32 and 25 years on death row.

Pedro Sosa
On May 3, 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the sentence of Pedro Sosa to life in prison.  Sosa was sentenced to death for the 1983 abduction and shooting death of 55-year-old Ollie Childress Jr., a Wilson County deputy.  According to the Associated Press, a trial court recommended that the sentence be reduced based on evidence of intellectual disabilities.  Sosa has been on death row since 1985 and faced three execution dates.

Robert Campbell
In the case of Robert Campbell, the Texas Attorney General’s Office determined he should receive a new sentencing hearing based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that changes the way Texas assesses intellectual disability, according to the Houston Chronicle.  Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced that she would not seek another death sentence, which means that Campbell’s punishment will be changed to life in prison.

Campbell was scheduled to be executed on May 13, 2014 for the rape and murder of Alexandra Rendon in 1991.  The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the execution that day in order to consider newly discovered evidence of his intellectual disabilities, including the results of IQ tests.  This evidence had been concealed by prosecutors and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  Campbell was 19 years old when he arrived on death row.

Previous posts about Campbell are available here.

On March 28, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Texas must use current medical standards for determining whether a person is intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution.  The case – Moore v. Texas – involves Bobby James Moore, who was convicted of killing a grocery store employee during a bungled robbery in Houston in 1980. He was 20 years old at the time of his conviction.

According to the Texas Tribune, “In 2014, a Texas state court used current medical standards, which looks for deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning that began as a child, to determine Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the decision, claiming the lower court erred by using those standards instead of the state’s [own] test.”

The U.S. Supreme Court found that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s (CCA) “decision does not comport with the Eighth Amendment and this Court’s precedents.”  The CCA is now reconsidering Moore’s claim of intellectual disabilities in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In a recent editorial, “Deadly Games”, the Houston Chronicle referenced the Moore case in declaring that “the CCA and the entire state of Texas need to address the death penalty with a new and serious skepticism.”

Immediately after the Moore ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court returned the cases of two other individuals on death row in Texas – James Henderson and Raymond Martinez – to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration based on their opinion requiring the use of current medical standards.