There is man named Robert Campbell on Texas’ death row, who is scheduled for execution this upcoming Monday. He was convicted of an especially heinous 1991 robbery-rape-murder, for which he was given Texas’ ultimate penalty: death. Campbell has argued a number of objections since that time, explaining in part why he was languished on death row nearly in a state of limbo for so long. Namely, he has contended that he received inadequate counsel at trial. Anecdotally, his new attorneys point to the fact that his original defender was from Conroe, not Houston (where his trial took place), and only provided rudimentary petitions and appeals, stuff that could basically just be copied off the internet.
However, while litigating this issue, another can of worms, so to speak, arose. Campbell’s IQ, according to a recent test, is 69, far below the threshold for mental retardation. In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled that those who have been explicitly defined by their state of mentally retarded. The intellectual handicaps are to be treated like youth or any other mitigating factor, in that it does not serve as evidence of being unable to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, but serve as a rationale to not levy the full punishment. The problem with this is that States can define mental retardation any way they so choose. Enter Campbell: with an IQ of 69. The problem is that the State contends this is not tantamount to the needed intellectual handicap for clemency.
The Austin American-Statesman now reports that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected the pleading for clemency on the part of Campbell. The court did not really talk about the inadequate counsel part of the debate, but was bitterly divided on whether or not Campbell had the intellectual capacity required to receive capital punishment.
A 5-4 majority of the Court ruled that the State can go forward with its death sentence on Monday. Granted, appeals are still pending in Federal Court, as a result of the secret execution drugs. Texas, of course, has moved forward starting last month with a secret supply of pentobarbital, obtained from secretive compounding pharmacy. However, this will be the first execution since that terrible incident in Oklahoma, wherein an individual put to death went through cruel and unusual pain as a result of the botched procedure. The Houston Chronicle reports that a Federal District Court has preliminarily declined the case, but there are still two more processes of appeal.
However, I went to talk a little more about the issues with a majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals finding a man with an IQ of 69 not being deemed mentally retarded. That distinction is typically extended to those with IQs of 70 or below, meaning that Campbell would fit the cutoff. Obviously, I categorically oppose capital punishment, but in these specific cases I believe one should always err on the side caution, given one is talking about ending a person’s life.
The opinion was given by Chief Justice Sharon Keller, who infamously closed the courthouse doors to a possible innocent man before execution, as well as Associate Justices Larry Meyers, Paul Womack, Michael Keasler and Barbara Harvey. The name of Meyers should stand out to sagacious followers of this publication, and for good reason. Although all nine Justices on this court of last resort for criminal matters in the State of Texas were most recently elected as Republicans, Meyers left the party in December, in a very high-profile move. Meyers joined the Democratic Party and is now the nominee for a place on the Texas Supreme Court.
I made the point when Meyers first switched parties that his partisan label alone should not serve as some sort of immediate exculpation for previous transgressions. Judges, just by the prospect of being Republicans, can be very good. And Democrats can be very, very, very, very, bad. Just being a Democrat should not serve as whatever the opposite of a Scarlett Letter is, and I can think of no better example.
The Texas Democratic Party’s platform calls for the abolition of the death penalty and broad protections for the innocent. If Meyers is obviously not willing to abide by those principles, and act like his radical Republican compatriots on the bench, what use is he as a Democrat?