execution Future Dangerousness

State of Texas executes Billy Wardlow

Update as of 7:40 PM, July 8, 2020: The State of Texas executed Billy Wardlow tonight, July 8, 2020, despite an outpouring of support from legislators, juvenile justice and neuroscience experts, and so many others. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider his appeals, and there was no word from Texas Governor Greg Abbott in response to Wardlow’s request for a 30-day stay of execution due to the pandemic.

Wardlow is the first person executed in Texas since early February and the first during the current public health crisis. Today, Texas experienced a record-high number of deaths related to COVID-19. In the midst of the pandemic, government officials deliberately took another life.

We are profoundly grateful to everyone who raised their voices in opposition to this unjust execution and to Billy’s legal team, who fought valiantly for him for many years. This is a shameful and sad day.

Original post: Billy Joe Wardlow is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas tonight, July 8, 2020, for a crime he committed 27 years ago when he was 18 years old. In 1993, he killed 82-year-old Carl Cole at his home in rural Morris County during a botched attempt to steal Cole’s truck.  Sentenced to death in 1995 after his trial attorney failed to present significant mitigating evidence, he has spent more than 25 years on death row.

Despite support from two jurors who now believe Wardlow should serve a life sentence, as well as 58 Texas legislators who aim to consider the issue of whether 18- to 20-year-olds should be sentenced to death or executed, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 6-1 against recommending clemency or a reprieve. 

Wardlow has several cert petitions and motions for a stay of execution pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.  He also has asked Texas Governor Greg Abbott to use his authority to grant a 30-day reprieve due to the pandemic and recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas.  

No executions have been carried out in Texas since early February. In March and April, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) stayed four executions based on the pandemic.  It also stayed the execution of Randall Mays, who was scheduled to be put to death on May 13, 2020, and sent his claim of intellectual disability back to the trial court for a review on the merits. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Ruben Gutierrez an hour before he was set to be put to death.  It was the fourth execution date he has faced over the past two years.

Attorneys for Billy Wardlow have filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asserting that a jury’s prediction of future dangerousness cannot reliably be made for capital defendants under the age of 21.   This determination of future dangerousness is a requirement for imposing the death penalty in Texas.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to impose a death sentence on individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the offense.  Since that time, scientific research has continued to show that brains do not fully mature until the early-to-mid-twenties, which means that no one can predict whether an 18-year-old will be dangerous in the future.  This information was not available to the jury that sentenced Wardlow to death in 1995. 

Read “‘Future dangerousness’ an unfair standard for executions” by Professor William S. Bush (published in the San Antonio Express-News on July 4, 2020)

Contrary to the jury’s prediction, Wardlow has not been dangerous at all during his lengthy incarceration. Read these recent pieces from people who know him well:

“Finding Justice When Immature Minds Commit Murder” by Dan Zegart

Should Billy Joe Wardlow Be Executed for a Crime Committed When He Was Eighteen? by Lincoln Caplan

Read coverage of this and the latest developments from the Associated Press and Texas Tribune.