One execution stayed, another execution date withdrawn

Late in the day on Friday, October 5, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) stayed the execution of Juan Segundo based on a claim of intellectual disability.  He was scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday, October 10 for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Vanessa Villa in 1986 in Fort Worth.

According to the Texas Tribune, Segundo’s “attorneys argued he had been diagnosed by multiple professionals as intellectually disabled based on consistently low IQ scores and severe deficits such as being unable to read a clock or tell right from left.”

It was only the second stay of execution granted by the CCA this year; both stays resulted from a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Moore v. Texas, in which the Justices 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 and has faced two serious execution dates in his 35 years on death row.

In 2014, Harris County District Court Judge Susan Brown found that Moore is intellectually disabled based on current medical standards and therefore exempt from the death penalty.  The CCA overruled her decision, however, claiming that she erred by using current standards instead of the Briseño factors, a set of non-scientific standards developed by the CCA to address claims of intellectual disability.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Moore v. Texas in the fall of 2016 on the question of whether it is unconstitutional for Texas “to prohibit the use of current medical standards on intellectual disability, and require the use of outdated medical standards, in determining whether an individual may be executed.”  In its March 2017 ruling, the Court found that the CCA “decision does not comport with the Eighth Amendment and this Court’s precedents.”

The Moore decision has impacted several cases and led the CCA to stay the scheduled execution of Clifton Williams in June 2018.  The CCA has refused to grant relief to Bobby Moore, however, even though the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has acknowledged Mr. Moore’s intellectually disabilities and asked the court to resentence him to life in prison.

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Earlier in the week, the November 7 execution date for Emanuel Kemp was withdrawn after the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office agreed to a request from Kemp’s attorneys for DNA testing.  Kemp was convicted of hijacking a bus and killing passenger Johnnie Mae Gray in 1987 in Fort Worth.  According to his attorney and reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the case against him was largely circumstantial and relied heavily on the testimony of a single witness — the bus driver.

Read more about the case in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The State of Texas has executed 10 people to date in 2018, accounting for more than 50% of the executions nationwide. There currently are four men facing execution dates between now and December 14.