NO alla Pena di Morte
Campagna Internazionale 

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Sett. 1999Appello Urgente

 Nov. 2000 - La Corte Suprema sospende la condanna 

  Giugno 2001

La Corte Suprema ha deciso: il processo a Johnny Paul Penry va rifatto in quanto la giuria non ha tenuto conto del ritardo mentale dell’imputato.


High Court overturns death sentence of Johnny Penry

Il testo integrale della sentenza della Corte Suprema 

The High Court sentence on Penry case

 

06/06/200 - 

Mettere a morte un ritardato

Executing the Retarded

05/06/2001

La Repubblica riporta la notizia del verdetto della Corte Suprema rispetto al caso Penry: “Sentenza storica che segna un passo avanti per la campagna contro la pena capitale


Italian newspaper Repubblica on High Court decision: a step ahead for the campaign against death penalty

TG COM

Usa: annullata la pena di morte per un minorato mentaleI periti: "Ha il cervello di un bambino di sette anni"

 

Usa: nuova udienza per Penry, il ritardato condannato a morte

High Court overturns death sentence of retarded man

Penry Case:Death sentence Overturned by High Court

Supreme Court Overturns Retarded Man's Death Sentence

 

US court overturns death sentence

 

Death Sentence For Retarded Man Is Overturned  - High Court Says Jury in Penry Case Was Given Inadequate Instructions

 

Supreme Court Gives Reprieve to a Retarded Killer in Texas 

Chronology of Events in Penry Case
   

 

- June 6, 2001     

 Executing the Retarded

 Although this week's 6-to-3 Supreme Court decision overturning the death sentence of a retarded Texan named Johnny Paul Penry was decided on narrow legal grounds, it was nonetheless a significant victory for common sense and decency. The ruling is bound to add momentum to the growing national movement to end the nation's uncivilized practice of executing mentally retarded people convicted of capital crimes. Currently, the United States is one of only three countries - Kyrgyzstan and Japan are the others - that impose the death penalty on killers whose low I.Q.'s put them in the retarded category. Regrettably, the Supreme Court has not used Mr. Penry's long legal battle to end the practice in this country. When the court first dealt with his case in 1989, it concluded that executing retarded people convicted of capital offenses did not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment. Nevertheless, it overturned his original death sentence because of flawed jury instructions. This week the court concluded that even the revised jury instructions in his case were flawed and again overturned his death sentence. But the court put off the broader constitutional question until next term, when it will revisit the issue in a different case. There is good reason to hope that the court will find the Eighth Amendment argument more persuasive this time. In 1989 it found no "national consensus" against executing retarded people, but such a consensus is clearly emerging. While only two death-penalty states had laws rejecting the penalty for retarded killers then, 14 states have such statutes now. That number could soon grow, as the legislatures in both Florida and Texas have passed bills barring such executions. The bills are awaiting approval or veto by the two states' governors, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry respectively. Mirroring the pattern in the rest of the country, most Texans support capital punishment but draw the line at executing the retarded. Last August Mr. Perry, then lieutenant governor, presided over the execution of Oliver Cruz, a confessed rapist and murderer said to have been incapable of learning beyond a sixth-grade level, while Gov. George W. Bush was out of state campaigning for president. By signing the bill, Mr. Perry cannot escape his share of responsibility for that deplorable action. But he can at least help move his state and the rest of the nation to higher moral ground.


 

       

Usa, salvato dalla Corte suprema il minorato condannato a morte

Sentenza storica che segna un passo avanti per

 la campagna contro la pena capitale

 

ARTURO ZAMPAGLIONE

 

NEWYORK - Per il momento Johnny Paul Penry potrà continuare, a disegnare case ed alberi con le matite colorate nella cella del carcere di Huntsville. La Corte suprema, infatti, ha annullato il suo secondo appuntamento con il boia del Texas, sostenendo che ai giurati che lo avevano condannato a morte non erano state date istruzioni precise su come comportarsi nel caso di un ritardato mentale. E Penry rientra proprio in questa categoria: a dispetto della mole e di qualche capello bianco, ha l'intelligenza (e i gusti) di un bambino di 7 anni.

Approvata con 6 voti a favore e 3 contrari, quelli dei superconservatori William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia e Clarence Thomas, la sentenza di ieri della Corte suprema conferma che il pendolo della giustizia capitale sta tornando negli Usa su posizioni meno esasperate. I sondaggi mostrano che la pena di morte è meno popolare del passato. Persino il Texas ha dei ripensamenti sull'uso indiscriminato della forca. E alla vigilia delle prime esecuzioni federali - quella di Timothy McVeigh è fissata per l'11 giugno (anche se potrebbe essere ritardata), quella di Juan Garza per il 19 - si moltiplicano gli appelli per una moratoria generalizzata.

Nessuno contesta la colpevolezza di Penry, che nel ‘79 stuprò e uccise una ragazza di 22 anni, Pamela Moseley Carpenter. Le polemiche nascono invece per la condanna a morte: i suoi avvocati, appoggiati dagli avversari della pena capitale, sostengono che non è accettabile consegnare al boia un ritardato mentale, il quale non si rende neanche conto di che cosa ha fatto e a che cosa va incontro. Ma anche se l'esecuzione di un minorato fa ribrezzo in tutto il mondo industrializzato, in America è ancora del tutto costituzionale. L'unica "regola" è che lo stato mentale può essere fattore mitigante.

I 9 giudici della Corte suprema hanno deciso a marzo di riesaminare l'intera questione, sollevata anche da un caso molto simile a quello di Penry nella Carolina del Nord. Ma fino a quando non ci sarà una sentenza, sono le legislazioni statali a stabilire la liceità della condanna a morte dei minorati. E quella del Texas ancora la prevede, anche se una legge per l'abolizione è sul tavolo di Rick Perry, governatore dello stato e successore di George W. Bush.

Nell'89 i legali di Penry convinsero la Corte suprema ad annullare una prima condanna a morte, spiegando che ai giurati che avevano stabilito la pena non erano state dati istruzioni precise. Il caso Penry tornò dunque di fronte a una giuria, che impose per la seconda volta la pena di morte. Ma anche la seconda sentenza è stata ora annullata dai giudici di Washington. «Non era chiaro che l'alternativa alla pena di morte sarebbe stata l'ergastolo», ha scritto a nome della maggioranza Sandra O'Connor.

Dopo la decisione di ieri, l'impressione prevalente è che Penry riuscirà a evitare la morte. In attesa che il suo caso venga riesaminato dall'ennesima giuria, è probabile che la legge texana contro le condanne ai minorati diventi definitiva o che la Corte suprema metta definitivamente al bando questo tipo di esecuzioni. E lui, Penry, senza neanche sapere d'essere un simbolo della lotta contro la barbarie, continuerà a usare la matita gialla per disegnare il sole e la nera per il fumo dei caminetti.


 TG COM         

4-6-2001

Usa: annullata la pena di morte per un minorato mentale I periti: "Ha il cervello di un bambino di sette anni"

La condanna a morte per il disabile Johnny Penry è stata annullata dalla Corte Suprema americana. Il motivo sarebbe che il condannato ha un livello di sviluppo mentale pari a quello di un bambino di sette anni e un quoziente intellettivo compreso fra i 50 e i 63 punti, contro un minimo di 70 raggiunto di norma da una persona adulta.

 Penry fu arrestato nel 1979 a Livingstone, Texas, con l'accusa di aver violentato ed ucciso una ragazza di 22 anni, Pamela Moseley Carpenter, sorella del giocatore di football dei Washington Redskins, Mark Moseley. Pamela venne ferita mortalmente al petto a colpi di forbice da Penry.

Ma prima di morire riuscì a fare il nome del suo assassino. Lo stesso Penry, che aveva precedenti per stupro, confessò e il processo portò alla sua condanna a morte. Nel 1989 la Corte suprema ordinò la revisione del primo processo al fine di consentire ai giurati di valutare la condizione mentale di Penry, pur sottolineando che restava costituzionale condannare a morte un minorato mentale. Nel 1990 il secondo processo confermò della condanna alla pena capitale. Infine, il 16 novembre dell'anno scorso, la Corte aveva nuovamente bloccato il boia a pochi minuti dall'esecuzione per poter riesaminare il caso. Di Penry si era interessata anche la COMUNITÀ DI SANT'EGIDIO.

Dal quando nel 1976 è stata reintrodotta la pena capitale negli Usa, sono stati messi a morte 35 ritardati mentali, e sono attualmente 2-300 i condannati con disturbi mentali rinchiusi nel braccio della morte.


        

Usa: nuova udienza per Penry, il ritardato condannato a morte

4 giugno 2001

Clamorosa sentenza della Corte suprema americana

 WASHINGTON (CNN) -- La Corte suprema degli Stati Uniti ha ordinato una nuova udienza in favore di un handicappato mentale del Texas condannato a morte.

Si tratta di un caso che viene seguito con grande attenzione dai gruppi che si oppongono alla pena capitale. Riguarda Johnny Paul Penry, condannato nel 1979 per lo stupro e l'omicidio della ventiduenne Pamela Moseley Carpenter. I suoi avvocati affermano che soffre di un leggero ritardo mentale e che ha il cervello equivalente a quello di un bambino di sette anni.

Con sei voti a favore e tre contrari, la Corte suprema ha ordinato che sia nuovamente discussa davanti a una giuria la pena comminata, non la sentenza di colpevolezza. All'unanimità i giudici hanno invece stabilito la legittimità dell'acquisizione come prova da parte del tribunale di un referto psichiatrico di Penry.

Il Parlamento del Texas ha da poco votato una legge che proibisce l'esecuzione di persone mentalmente ritardate. Il governatore Rick Perry, successore dell'attuale presidente George Bush, non ha ancora detto se firmerà la legge.

Già nello scorso autunno la Corte suprema aveva sollevato molto clamore accettando di valutare l'ultimo ricorso presentato da Penry. Gli oppositori della pena di morte sostengono infatti che le giurie che devono decidere la pena spesso ricevono, in casi come questi, istruzioni inadeguate da parte del giudice che presiede l'udienza.

Penry, d'altra parte, era già diventato un caso celebre dal momento in cui confessò il delitto. Dopo una primo complicato passaggio attraverso il sistema penale del Texas, la Corte suprema accettò di discutere il suo primo ricorso e, nel 1989, sfrutto il caso Penry per fissare due elementi importanti della giurisprudenza in caso di pena capitale.

Come prima cosa la corte stabilì che l'esecuzione di persone mentalmente ritardate è costituzionale, ma affermò anche che le giure nel prendere in considerazione la pena di morte devono sapere come valutare il ritardo mentale come attenuante.

La causa di Penry tornò a quel punto davanti ai tribunali del Texas, ma i suoi avvocati sostennero che anche la giuria che lo aveva mandato per la seconda volta a morte non aveva ricevuto istruzioni migliori della prima.

E questo è il punto sollevato nel secondo ricorso che la Corte suprema ha accettato di discutere nell'autunno scorso. Ma il caso è presto diventato secondario. Il giorno prima dell'inizio del dibattimento sulla causa Penry davanti ai giudici supremi, la Corte sbalordì gli osservatori accettando di esaminare un altro caso - questa volta proveniente dalla Carolina del Nord - che pone la stessa domanda che era stata posta da Penry 12 anni orsono: l'esecuzione di un ritardato mentale viola l'ottavo emendamento della Costituzione che proibisce pene crudeli o inusuali?

Se la Corte suprema cambierà la sua sentenza e stabilirà che i ritardati mentali non possono essere messi a morte, diventerà irrilevante la questione delle istruzioni da dare alla giuria che deve valutare se condannare a una pena detentiva o alla pena capitale un reo.


  WASHINGTON --        

In a case closely watched by opponents of capital punishment, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a jury should have considered a Texas inmate's mental capacity before sentencing him to death.

The 6-3 ruling called for a new sentencing hearing for Johnny Paul Penry, who was sentenced to death for the 1979 rape and murder of 22-year-old Pamela Moseley Carpenter. His lawyers have described Penry as mildly mentally retarded with the mind of a 7-year-old.

Another part of the court's ruling was unanimous. The justice ruled that a Texas court had properly admitted into evidence parts of a psychiatric report on Penry.

The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded persons. Gov. Rick Perry hasn't said whether he will sign it.

The Supreme Court made headlines last fall when it accepted Penry's latest appeal, in part because death penalty opponents say juries too often get inadequate instructions and in part because of Penry's own notoriety.

Penry has been in the forefront of the debate over capital punishment almost from the moment he confessed to killing Carpenter.

After a complicated and highly publicized passage through the Texas courts, the Supreme Court accepted his first appeal and in 1989 used his case to establish two related tenets of capital punishment practice.

The court ruled then that execution of the mentally retarded is constitutional, but juries considering the death penalty must understand how to weigh retardation as a mitigating factor.

Penry's case returned to the Texas courts, where his lawyers claim the second jury that sentenced him to death got no better instructions than the first.

That is the question the Supreme Court agreed to review in his case, but it soon became a sidelight.

One day before the justices heard arguments in Penry's case in March, they raised the stakes much higher by agreeing to hear a separate North Carolina case that asks the same question Penry did 12 years ago: Does executing the mentally retarded violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?

If the court reverses itself with that case and declares that the retarded must be spared, the issue of proper death penalty jury instructions would be irrelevant.


    Monday June 4  -

Texas Death Sentence Overturned

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a prelude to deciding whether the mentally retarded can be executed, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a Texas killer on Monday because the jury lacked clear instructions on how to weigh his mental condition.

The ruling voided the death sentence of Johnny Paul Penry, who was originally convicted of murder in 1979 and has been sentenced to die twice. He killed Pamela Moseley Carpenter, sister of former pro football place-kicker Mark Moseley.

The 6-3 ruling pitted the court's moderates and liberals against its conservatives, but did not resolve whether execution of the mentally retarded violates the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court has agreed to hear arguments on that larger question this fall in the appeal of a North Carolina death row inmate.

``If you had to predict where the court is, we would hope they're becoming as troubled as a lot of Americans are about how the death penalty is being used in this country,'' said attorney Richard Kammen of Indianapolis. Kammen is vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Mark Levin, president of the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, said the ruling gives no real clues into the court's thinking.

``I don't think this decision gives us any insight into court's future position on the death penalty because it's focused on instructions given the jury,'' he said.

The case of Penry, whose lawyers say has the mind of a 7-year-old and plays with coloring books, reversed a federal appeals court that upheld the jury instructions.

The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded persons but Gov. Rick Perry hasn't said whether he'll sign it.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor , writing for the majority, said the Texas trial court ignored the jury instruction guidelines set by the Supreme Court when it previously overturned Penry's death sentence. After that ruling, Penry was sentenced a second time.

The crucial mistake, O'Connor wrote, was that jurors were asked to vote ``no'' to specific questions about Penry's conduct if they wanted to spare him from death. They were to answer this way even if their truthful response to any of the questions would have been ``yes.''

``The jury was essentially instructed to return a false answer ... in order to avoid a death sentence,'' O'Connor wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas  dissented, joined by two fellow conservatives: Chief Justice William Rehnquist  and Justice Antonin Scalia .

``Without performing legal acrobatics, I cannot make the instruction confusing,'' Thomas wrote.

In the 24 years since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume, there have been 716 including 246 in Texas.

The Death Penalty Information Center, which maintains statistics on executions, said 35 of the 716 people put to death showed evidence of mental retardation according to psychological testing.

Fourteen states have enacted legislation to ban execution of the mentally retarded: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington state.

In addition to Texas, the Florida and Missouri legislatures have passed a prohibition but their governors have not signed the bills.

Penry became eligible for parole when the Supreme Court threw out his death sentence, but his attorney said he doubted Penry would leave prison.

``You don't really think with the publicity of this case that this man would ever make parole,'' said Penry lawyer, John Wright.

Another Penry lawyer, Robert Smith, said, ``The right thing to do here is to work out something that makes it reasonably sure that Penry really does do life in prison and is never let out, which I think is probably their main concern.''

Joe Price, the district attorney who won death sentences twice in Penry's case and has seen both overturned, commented: ``There's no question in my mind if we turn this rascal loose, somebody else is going to pay the price out there somewhere.''

The case is Penry v. Johnson, 00-6677.


        

Supreme Court Overturns Retarded Man's Death Sentence

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned the death sentence of a Texas inmate said by his lawyers to be so mentally retarded he still believes in Santa Claus, ruling the jury instructions at resentencing were flawed.

By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled for Johnny Paul Penry, 45, a convicted killer whose IQ is said by his lawyers to be between 50 and 63, below the 70 required for normal intelligence. They say he has the reasoning capacity of a 7-year-old.

The majority opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor the jury instruction was ``ineffective and illogical'' and did not allow jurors to consider mitigating evidence of Penry's mental retardation and childhood abuse.

The Supreme Court in 1989 threw out Penry's conviction and ordered a new trial on the grounds that juries in capital murder trials must be allowed to weigh evidence of mental retardation.

Penry then was retried, convicted and again sentenced to death in 1990 in the 1979 rape and murder of Pamela Carpenter, 22, in the east Texas town of Livingston.

O'Connor said the jury instructions at resentencing failed to comply with the Supreme Court's 1989 ruling.

She said the new instructions failed to provide the jury ''with a vehicle for expressing its reasoned moral response to the mitigating evidence of Penry's mental retardation and childhood abuse.'' COURT TO DECIDE BROADER ISSUE

In its term that begins in October, the high court will consider the broader question of whether the execution of mentally retarded people convicted of capital crimes should be barred as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

In its 1989 ruling in the Penry case, the Supreme Court found that executing the mentally retarded did not violate the cruel and unusual punishment ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the ruling only reinforced the need for a total ban on the execution of the mentally retarded.

``The court's ruling highlights the difficulty that the criminal justice system has experienced in fairly assessing the guilt and moral responsibility of mentally retarded defendants in capital cases,'' said Diann Rust-Tierney of the ACLU.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has until June 17 to decide whether to sign into law a bill passed by the state legislature that would ban the execution of convicted killers who are mentally retarded.

A spokesman for Perry said the governor's office was reviewing the ruling.

The verdict form given to the second jury contained the same three main questions as the one in the first trial: Was the murder deliberate? Does Penry represent a continuing threat to society? And was the murder unprovoked?

The only difference was an instruction by the judge that if the jurors, in considering the mitigating factors, decide that a sentence of life in prison should be imposed, they should answer ``no'' to any of the three questions.

Prosecutors have argued that Penry, who confessed to the crime, has been pretending to be retarded.

He was convicted of killing Carpenter, the sister of former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, with her own pair of scissors after forcing his way into her home and raping her. He was out on probation for a 1977 rape at the time.

In another section of the decision, the court unanimously held that admission into evidence of statements from a psychiatric report based on an interview with Penry did not violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - the court's three most conservative members -- dissented from the ruling.

Thomas wrote that the most recent sentencing gave jurors an opportunity to consider the evidence Penry presented. ``In today's decision, this court yet again has second-guessed itself and decided that even this supplemental instruction is not constitutionally sufficient,'' he said.


June 4

By James Vicini        

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court  on Monday overturned the death sentence of a Texas inmate said by his lawyers to be so mentally retarded he still believes in Santa Claus, ruling the jury instructions at resentencing were flawed.

By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled for Johnny Paul Penry, 45, a convicted killer whose IQ is said by his lawyers to be between 50 and 63, below the 70 required for normal intelligence. They say he has the reasoning capacity of a 7-year-old.

The majority opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor  said the jury instruction was ``ineffective and illogical'' and did not allow jurors to consider mitigating evidence of Penry's mental retardation and childhood abuse.

The Supreme Court in 1989 threw out Penry's conviction and ordered a new trial on the grounds that juries in capital murder trials must be allowed to weigh evidence of mental retardation.

Penry then was retried, convicted and again sentenced to death in 1990 in the 1979 rape and murder of Pamela Carpenter, 22, in the east Texas town of Livingston.

O'Connor said the jury instructions at resentencing failed to comply with the Supreme Court's 1989 ruling.

She said the new instructions failed to provide the jury ''with a vehicle for expressing its reasoned moral response to the mitigating evidence of Penry's mental retardation and childhood abuse.''

COURT TO DECIDE BROADER ISSUE

In its term that begins in October, the high court will consider the broader question of whether the execution of mentally retarded people convicted of capital crimes should be barred as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

In its 1989 ruling in the Penry case, the Supreme Court found that executing the mentally retarded did not violate the cruel and unusual punishment ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union  said the ruling only reinforced the need for a total ban on the execution of the mentally retarded.

``The court's ruling highlights the difficulty that the criminal justice system has experienced in fairly assessing the guilt and moral responsibility of mentally retarded defendants in capital cases,'' said Diann Rust-Tierney of the ACLU.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has until June 17 to decide whether to sign into law a bill passed by the state legislature that would ban the execution of convicted killers who are mentally retarded.

A spokesman for Perry said the governor's office was reviewing the ruling.

The verdict form given to the second jury contained the same three main questions as the one in the first trial: Was the murder deliberate? Does Penry represent a continuing threat to society? And was the murder unprovoked?

The only difference was an instruction by the judge that if the jurors, in considering the mitigating factors, decide that a sentence of life in prison should be imposed, they should answer ``no'' to any of the three questions.

Prosecutors have argued that Penry, who confessed to the crime, has been pretending to be retarded.

He was convicted of killing Carpenter, the sister of former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, with her own pair of scissors after forcing his way into her home and raping her. He was out on probation for a 1977 rape at the time.

In another section of the decision, the court unanimously held that admission into evidence of statements from a psychiatric report based on an interview with Penry did not violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist  and Justices Antonin Scalia  and Clarence Thomas  -- the court's three most conservative members -- dissented from the ruling.

Thomas wrote that the most recent sentencing gave jurors an opportunity to consider the evidence Penry presented. ``In today's decision, this court yet again has second-guessed itself and decided that even this supplemental instruction is not constitutionally sufficient,'' he said.


         

Monday, 4 June, 2001  BBC

US court overturns death sentence

Johnny Paul Penry: Case has been at forefront of US debate

The US Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence against a man said by lawyers to have the mental age of a seven-year-old. 

Judges ruled that a Texas court should have taken into account Johnny Paul Penry's mental capacity before sentencing him to death. 

Death penalty USA 

38 states have the death penalty

More then 3,600 inmates are on death row

Execution can be by hanging, electrocution, gassing, the firing squad or lethal injection

Four states still use the electric chair 

Penry, 44, was convicted of murdering Pamela Moseley Carpenter in Texas in 1979. 

Penry's case, which has now been sent back to a federal appeals court, has been one of those at the forefront of the debate in the US over whether execution of the mentally retarded is constitutional. 

After a complicated and highly-publicised passage through the Texas courts, the Supreme Court accepted Penry's first appeal and in 1989 used his case to establish two related tenets of capital punishment practice. 

The court ruled then that execution of the mentally retarded was constitutional, but juries considering the death penalty should understand how to weigh retardation as a mitigating factor. 

Withheld evidence 

A recent study of the death penalty in the US found that two-thirds of all capital convictions are overturned on appeal. 

Of the cases where courts ordered a new trial, 7% were acquitted, while 75% were convicted but sentenced to a lesser punishment. 

The study found the most common reasons for reversals were errors committed by incompetent defence lawyers, faulty instructions to juries or evidence withheld by law enforcement officers. 

There are no definitive cases of innocent people having been executed, but 87 people have been released from death row since 1973. 


– 05/06/01        

Death Sentence For Retarded Man Is Overturned

High Court Says Jury in Penry Case Was Given Inadequate Instructions

By Charles Lane

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 5, 2001; Page A03

Ruling in the case of a mentally retarded Texas man whose lawyers have been fighting his execution for two decades, the Supreme Court yesterday overturned the death sentence imposed on convicted murderer Johnny Paul Penry.

By a vote of 6-3, the court held that instructions given by the judge in Penry's 1990 trial failed to give the jury an adequate opportunity to consider circumstances such as his alleged mental disabilities, violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The judge's instructions "provided an inadequate vehicle for the jury to make a reasoned moral response to Penry's mitigating evidence," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the opinion for the court. It was the second time the court has ruled on Penry's case and the second time it overturned his death sentence.

The court's decision probably immediately affects only Penry and a handful of other Texas death row inmates. It does not bear directly on the larger question of whether executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional in all cases. That issue will be addressed in a separate case the justices have agreed to hear next fall.

However, the case of Penry, who was subjected to horrific child abuse and whose measured intelligence is said to be similar to that of a seven-year-old, has become a rallying point for capital punishment opponents around the world.

Yesterday's decision gives them a symbolic victory at a time when many states are reconsidering their death penalty procedures. The Texas Legislature recently approved a bill that would ban executions of the mentally retarded.

"It is surely encouraging in that sense," said James Ellis, a law professor at the University of New Mexico who is helping the legal team that will argue for abolishing the death penalty for the mentally retarded next term. "It further confirms . . . that the court is aware of what's happening, and of the movement in the country."

Ellis noted that the court's opinion referred to the fact that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is considering the Texas ban, which will become law if he fails to veto or sign it by June 17.

Local authorities in Texas expressed disappointment with the ruling. "Our opinion all along is that Johnny Paul Penry deserves the death penalty, and that that would have been justice in this case," said William Lee Hohn, first assistant district attorney of Polk County, where Penry was tried.

Penry raped and murdered Pamela Moseley Carpenter, the sister of former Washington Redskins place kicker Mark Moseley, on Oct. 25, 1979. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1980.

But the Supreme Court threw out his death sentence in a 1989 decision also written by O'Connor. In that chapter of the Penry case, the court denied Penry's lawyers' request for a general ban on executing the mentally retarded.

But the court said Penry deserved a new trial because Texas juries at the time operated under instructions which, the court said, gave juries no way to consider mental retardation as a reason to give defendants a life sentence instead of death. Texas changed those rules in 1991, but in the meantime Penry had been tried again, convicted, and sentenced to death.

The judge in that second proceeding attempted to incorporate the court's 1989 ruling into his jury instructions, but yesterday the court held that those instructions were unclear and no fairer to Penry than the ones it struck down in 1989.

According to Jeff Pokorak, a Texas law professor who represents capital defendants in the state, perhaps five other Texas death row inmates were also sentenced around the time of Penry's second trial and would therefore benefit from yesterday's ruling.

The Supreme Court's decision sends the case back to local authorities for a new sentencing proceeding. Penry's attorney, Robert Smith, said he would seek to persuade state officials to drop the death penalty in exchange for Penry's agreement to accept a life sentence and waive his right to parole.

But Hohn said his office is exploring all its options, consulting with the murder victim's family and waiting to see what will happen with the recently passed Texas bill and, perhaps, next term's Supreme Court case.

That case involves a convicted murderer in North Carolina, Ernest McCarver, whose lawyers contend that he is mentally retarded and that it is time for the Supreme Court to reconsider its holding in the 1989 Penry case, which authorized executions of the mentally retarded.

In that case, the court said that it could ban the practice if there was a national consensus against it, but held that no such consensus yet existed since hardly any states had decided to outlaw executions of the retarded.

In the interim, 12 of the 38 states that have a death penalty have prohibited executions of the mentally retarded.

O'Connor's opinion was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, dissented, arguing that there was no basis for second-guessing lower courts that had upheld Penry's sentence.

"I simply do not share the Court's confusion as to how a juror could consider mitigating evidence," Thomas wrote. The case is Penry v. Johnson, No. 00-6677.

Separately, the justices ruled yesterday that there is no legal limit on the amount of money courts may award employees who are sexually harassed to compensate them for the time they spend waiting to be reinstated or to move on to other employment after they win their case. 


       

Supreme Court Gives Reprieve to a Retarded Killer in Texas 

David Stout New York Times Service  Tuesday, June 5, 2001

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court on Monday spared the life of a retarded killer, declaring that Texas prosecutors failed to clearly instruct jurors on how they could evaluate the defendant's mental capacity.

By 6 to 3, the court overturned the death sentence imposed on Johnny Paul Penry, whose I.Q. has been estimated at 51 to 60 and who, according to his lawyers, is largely unable to comprehend the judicial proceedings around him. The ruling Monday was a narrow one, applying only to Mr. Penry, whose fate remains uncertain, although his prospects for escaping a lethal injection look better than they have in years. His case was sent back to the lower courts.

Meanwhile, the governor of Texas has yet to decide whether to sign a bill recently passed by the Texas legislature that would ban the execution of mentally retarded convicts.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule within a year on a far broader North Carolina case addressing the issue of whether all executions of retarded people ought to be outlawed as unconstitutional.

The ruling Monday was the second by the high court voiding a death sentence pronounced upon Mr. Penry, who was on parole after serving a sentence for rape, when he raped and killed Pamela Moseley Carpenter - sister of the former Washington Redskins player Mark Moseley - on Oct. 25, 1979. The victim was stabbed with the scissors she had been using to make Halloween decorations, but she was able to describe her attacker before dying.

Mr. Penry was convicted of murder in 1980 and sentenced to death. In 1989, his case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the jury had been inadequately instructed on how to consider the defendant's intellectual level as a possible mitigating factor against a death sentence. Generally speaking, a person with an I.Q. below 70 is considered retarded.

In 1990, Mr. Penry was convicted again. And again, during the penalty phase of the trial, the defense offered extensive evidence that Mr. Penry was severely retarded and had been terribly abused as a child.

The verdict form that Mr. Penry's second jury received was the same given to the jurors in the first trial. It contained three questions: First, was the conduct that caused the victim's death deliberate? Second, did the defendant present a continuing threat to society? Third, was the conduct that caused the death unreasonable in response to any provocation by the victim?

The only difference in the second trial was an instruction by the judge that, if the jurors wanted to give effect to any mitigating circumstances and spare the defendant's life, they should answer "no" to any one of the three questions. The jury answered "yes" to all. On Monday, the high court held that the instructions in the second trial still did not pass muster. Among other things, the supposedly clarifying comments from the judge and lawyers were "a distant and convoluted memory by the time the jurors began their deliberations," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority. She was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. 


              

Chronology of Events in Penry Case

Monday June 4 

A chronology of events leading to Monday's U.S. Supreme Court  decision to overturn the death sentence of Johnny Paul Penry, a mentally retarded convicted killer:

-May 1966: John Paul Penry, 10, diagnosed by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Division of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston as having mental retardation and behavioral disturbance. Tests put his IQ at 56.

-May 1968: Penry admitted to the Mexia State School for the mentally retarded and is later released.

-Sept. 17, 1973: Following an arrest for arson, Penry is sent to the Austin State Hospital where he is diagnosed as having organic brain syndrome with psychosis due to repeated trauma and mild retardation.

-Oct. 3, 1973: Penry is sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the mentally ill. Testing puts his IQ at 63.

-February 1977: Penry is arrested and pleads guilty to rape; sentenced to five years in prison.

-July 29, 1977: Penry leaves Polk County Jail and enters state prison.

-July 10, 1979: Penry paroled to Polk County.

-Oct. 25, 1979: Pamela Moseley Carpenter is raped, stabbed and fatally beaten at her home in Livingston. Within hours of her death, Penry confesses to the crime.

-March 13, 1980: A jury finds Penry mentally competent to be tried for capital murder.

-April 1, 1980: Penry found guilty of capital murder.

-April 2, 1980: Jury deliberates 46 minutes before deciding Penry should be put to eath.

-April 9, 1980: Penry arrives on death row.

-January 1985: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirms Penry's conviction and death sentence.

-January 1986: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to review Penry's conviction.

-May 6, 1986: Penry, moved to cell outside death chamber, receives federal court reprieve hours before his scheduled execution.

-June 1989: U.S. Supreme Court reverses 5th U.S. Circuit Court ruling denying federal habeas relief and orders new trial so a jury can consider Penry's mental retardation during punishment deliberations.

-May 1990: Penry found legally competent to stand trial a second time.

-July 1990: Penry retried and convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death.

-Feb. 22, 1995: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirms conviction.

-Dec. 3, 1997: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denies Penry application for state habeas relief.

-March 30, 1999: Federal district court denies relief and permission to appeal.

-June 20, 2000: 5th Circuit denies permission to appeal.

-July 25, 2000: 5th Circuit denies rehearing.

-Nov. 13, 2000: Penry, moved to cell outside death chamber, receives Supreme Court reprieve hours before his scheduled execution.

-March 27: Supreme Court hears arguments in Penry case.

-May 26: Legislature passes bill that would ban mentally retarded from being executed. Gov. Rick Perry has not said whether he will sign the bill.

-June 4: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Penry's death sentence, ruling 6-3 that jurors did not get clear instructions about how to weigh the defendant's mental abilities against the severity of his crime. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Texas court properly admitted evidence of Penry's future dangerousness.