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Supreme Court Stops Execution of Mentally Retarded Man in Texas

Aired June 4, 2001 - 10:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have more breaking news coming out of the Supreme Court. Let's check in with Jeanne in Washington -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, a decision today in the case of Johnny Paul Henry. Henry is a mentally retarded man who was sentenced to death for the rape and death of a young woman in Texas. The question before the court is whether the jury should have considered his low I.Q. and his history of having been abused in making its sentencing decision, the court today saying unanimously, yes it should have been, that the instructions to the jury were confusing and conflicting and he should get another sentencing hearing.

Charles Bierbauer has the background on this case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Johnny Penry I.Q. tests between 51 and 63, mild to moderate retardation. He can read and write only a little, but likes to draw. His lawyers describe him as a seven-year-old in a 44-year-old's body.

BOB SMITH, PENRY ATTORNEY: He understands enough to be frightened. He is clearly frightened of what's going to happen if he loses the case.

PENRY: I have never hurt nobody in my whole life.

BIERBAUER: But he did. In 1979, Penry raped Pamela Carpenter and stabbed her to death with a scissors. That is not in dispute. Penry's first Supreme Court appeal in 1989 questioned whether executing the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion said, "Mental retardation is a factor that may well lessen a defendant's culpability for a capital offense." But she added, "We cannot conclude today that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of any mentally retarded person of Penry's ability.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that, he stated when, if I, I knew if I went over there I'd have to kill her because I didn't want to get caught. PENRY: Sometimes it's scary.

BIERBAUER: Penry did win a new trial. But Texas law permitted a jury to answer only three questions, was the murder committed deliberately, was it an unreasonable response to provocation, was Penry a continuing threat to society?

PENRY: I ain't no trouble maker.

BIERBAUER: Penry was again sentenced to die. His lawyer says the jury should have considered one more question.

SMITH: Considering all the mitigating circumstances, the -- including the mental retardation and the child abuse, what do you think is the right sentence, a life sentence or a death sentence? They were never asked that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: And once again, the court ruling unanimously today that Penry's mental retardation and his history of abuse should have been a consideration, should have been part of the instructions to the jury in that case. A unanimous decision there. Four other decision from the court today, as well. Charles Bierbauer talking about all of those a little bit later in the show. Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, we'll be checking in with you and Charles, Jeanne, in D.C. Thank you so much.

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