Justices rule for Texas death row inmate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a Texas death row inmate who claims he should not be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

The justices, by a 5-3 vote, reversed a Texas appeals court ruling that said inmate Bobby James Moore was not intellectually disabled.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that Texas’ top criminal appeals court ignored current medical standards and required use of outdated criteria when it decided Moore isn’t mentally disabled. That ruling removed a legal hurdle to Moore’s execution for the shotgun slaying of a Houston grocery store clerk in 1980.

“Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake,” Ginsburg said.

The decision was the second this term in which the high court has ruled for a Texas death row inmate. In February, the justices said race improperly tainted inmate Duane Buck’s death sentence.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Roberts agreed that the Texas court used the wrong factors to determine mental disability. But he said the court also made a separate and independent determination about Moore’s intellectual abilities, finding they were not low enough to warrant a finding he was mentally disabled.

“Clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards,” Roberts said. “And judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment.”

The Supreme Court held in 2002 that people convicted of murder who are intellectually disabled cannot be executed. The court gave states some discretion to decide how to determine intellectual disability. The justices have wrestled in several more recent cases about how much discretion to allow.

In 2014, the court ruled unconstitutional a Florida law that barred any other evidence of intellectual disability if an inmate’s IQ was over 70.

Texas looks at three main points to define intellectual disability: IQ scores, with 70 generally considered a threshold; an inmate’s ability to interact with others and care for him- or herself and whether evidence of deficiencies in either of those areas occurred before age 18.

The case is Moore v. Texas, 15-797.


Court declines case of Kansas death row inmate

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand the Kansas death sentence of a man convicted of killing a college student more than two decades ago in a state that hasn’t executed anyone in more than a half century.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review Gary Kleypas’ case, the 61-year-old inmate — the first person condemned in Kansas after it reinstated the death penalty in 1994 — still has state and federal appeals options likely to take years to resolve.

“We’re obviously disappointed (with Monday’s development), but the Supreme Court doesn’t take that many cases,” Meryl Carver-Allmond, one of Kleypas’ appellate attorneys, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It’s like winning the lottery for them to take the case.”

Kleypas’ case now returns to Kansas courts for more likely legal challenges meant to undo his conviction and sentence related to the 1996 rape and stabbing death of 20-year-old Pittsburg State University student Carrie Williams.

The Kansas Supreme Court had overturned Kleypas’ death sentence in 2001, but a jury restored it in 2008. Last October, the state’s high court upheld Kleypas’ death sentence,
and as of Tuesday he was one of 10 men on Kansas’ death row.

At the time of Williams’ death, Kleypas was on parole from a 1977 Missouri murder conviction for which he served 15 years in prison.

During December 2015 arguments to the Kansas Supreme Court, Carver-Allmond acknowledged that Kleypas’ culpability for Williams’ death is undeniable. But she pressed, among other things, that jurors who condemned him during the 2008 resentencing hearing should have been removed from the case after seeing the victim’s father lunge at Kleypas in court.

But the state’s high court ultimately sided with the state’s insistence that the judge’s response to the would-be courtroom attack was “reasonable and rational,” given that jurors who witnessed it were properly vetted by the judge about whether they could be impartial.