A Federal Appeals Court in New Orleans decided to grant a stay of execution to convicted felon Robert James Campbell. The ruling came after Campbell’s criminal defense attorneys argued that he and the State of Texas had withheld vital information from them.
According to the New York Times, the United States Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit ordered the temporary delay of execution on new revelations that Campbell could be mentally disabled. This delay will allow courts to investigate and discover if the claim of mental handicap can be substantiated.
Had the execution gone forward, it would have been the first since a lethal injection went awry in Oklahoma last month. However, Campbell’s temporary reprieve was reached due to other grounds not relating to the efficacy of the drug mixture that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after stories emerged about the Oklahoma execution.
In Campbell’s case the concern is that if he’s found to be mentally disabled, he may not be put to death in a manner consistent with the United States Constitution. The Federal Appeals Court made its decision unanimously after lawyers uncovered mental health records that they assert were known to the state and were purposefully concealed.
Execution of people with documented mental retardation is unlawful in the United States. The marker for such a determination is an I.Q. test with a resulting score of under “approximately 70,” according to Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Lawyers for Campbell argued that evidence demonstrating his status as mentally disabled has recently come to light. They pointed to the results of three I.Q. tests held in state files. The first test was administered when Campbell was a child, the second was administered upon his arrival at death row, and the most recent test was administered after a motion by defense counsel. The scores were 68, 71, and 69 respectively.
Previous attempts by Campbell’s lawyers failed to halt his execution. They had already argued that the execution should be delayed until the state of Texas revealed information about the drugs to be used during the execution in an effort to prevent a situation like recent events in Oklahoma. Additionally, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to grant a stay on the same grounds involving disability employed by the Federal Court.
The appeals court made their decision to follow the holding of Atkins v. Virginia. Atkins, a 2002 case, produced a 6-3 Supreme Court decision where the court said, in essence, that executing the mentally disabled is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Traditionally, the time for asserting this type of argument had passed for Campbell. However, it appears that Campbell’s attorneys successfully convinced the gap in time was because of no fault of Campbell. Rather, that the delay could be attributed to the state keeping the test results under wraps.
Campbell was sentenced to death after being convicted of rape and murder in 1991. He has been held on death row since age 19 and is 41 years old now.
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