August 6, 2001

Bible Belt states more likely to
execute the mentally retarded

___By Jared Porter
___Baptist Center for Ethics
___NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Bible Belt states have been more likely to execute mentally retarded defendants than other states, according to data compiled by the publication Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty Information Center.
___Thirty-two of the 35 mentally retarded defendants given the death penalty between 1984 and 2000 were executed in Southern states, the statistics show.
___Some Southern states are beginning to ban capital punishment for mentally retarded defendants. Still, legislation in more than half of Southern states currently allows the death penalty for the mentally retarded.
___In July, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded offenders. Gov. Mike Easley was expected to sign the bill into law, making North Carolina the 18th state to adopt such a policy, according to the Charlotte Observer.
___The bill defines a mentally retarded defendant as anyone with an IQ of 70 or lower before the age of 18 while exhibiting "significant limitations in adaptive functioning,"
___The Council of Christian Life and Public Affairs of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina supports the ban and believes "executing mentally retarded people is morally and ethically wrong," said Executive Director Doug Cole.
___A recent attempt to get similar legislation passed in Texas was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
___"Texas' criminal justice system already has numerous safeguards to ensure that defendants who have sub-average intellectual capacity and who also have significant impairments in adaptive functioning ... are not executed," Perry said.
___The Death Penalty Information Center reported six executions of mentally retarded defendants in Texas since 1990. Perry denied mentally retarded defendants had been executed in Texas because each "knew what they were doing was wrong."
___Perry added that signing the bill into law would have undermined the jury system by giving judges the power to overturn a jury's determination of whether a defendant was mentally retarded.
___Susan Paynter, director of citizenship education for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said her organization supported the ban as well as another bill vetoed by Perry, which would have required giving juries the option of life without parole as a sentencing option.
___Missouri in July became the 16th state to ban the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants. Georgia banned capital punishment for the mentally retarded in 1988. Other southern states that prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded include Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

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