Last night, Texas executed 54-year-old Marvin Wilson, despite evidence that he was mentally disabled and reportedly sucked his thumb into adulthood. Wilson’s lawyers had argued that an IQ test on which Wilson scored 61 — nine points below the standard for competency — should have saved him from execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring execution of the intellectually disabled. Wilson is the second prisoner in Texas to be executed by a new lethal injection method involving a single drug. We speak with Democracy Now! producer Renée Feltz, who has long reported on the death penalty, especially in Texas, where she has covered the state’s ongoing execution of developmentally disabled prisoners. Feltz reads from a statement by the son of legendary author John Steinbeck condemning Texas for using Steinbeck’s fictional character, Lennie Small, from "Of Mice and Men" as a "benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die."
"On behalf of the family of John Steinbeck, I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson," Thomas Steinbeck wrote. "The character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way." [includes rush transcript]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with a follow-up to a story we covered Tuesday. Last night, the state of Texas went ahead with its execution of 54-year-old Marvin Wilson, despite evidence that he was mentally retarded. Wilson’s lawyers argued that an IQ test on which Wilson scored 61—nine points below the standard for competency—should have saved him from execution under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling barring execution of the intellectually disabled. This is attorney Lee Kovarsky on Democracy Now!
LEE KOVARSKY: Marvin fits comfortably within any clinical definition of mental retardation. You know, he’s got significantly sub-average intellectual functioning. His adaptive functioning is even worse. And if you believe that the Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins meant that we don’t execute mentally retarded offenders because, as you said, they’re less culpable and they’re less capable of mounting defenses that prevent them from being subjected to the death penalty, if you take that ruling seriously, then this is sort of the quintessential case in which you would not impose that sentence.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, last night, the Supreme Court struck down Wilson’s final appeal. He was escorted to the death chamber in Huntsville shortly before 6:00 p.m., put to death by a new lethal injection method that involves a single drug.
For more on the case that has drawn international attention, we’re joined by Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz. She has long reported on the death penalty, especially in Texas, where she specifically covered the state's ongoing execution of developmentally disabled prisoners.
Marvin Wilson was executed last night, Renée.
RENÉE FELTZ: I talked to his attorney, Lee Kovarsky, who we had on the show, last night, and he said that Marvin was at peace with God, with his family, and he was pronounced dead at 6:27 last night, leaving the rest of us to wonder how a man who sucked his thumb into adulthood could be killed.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the protests of this. Particularly poignant was the son of John Steinbeck, the author of Grapes of Wrath.
RENÉE FELTZ: That’s right. Well, there’s no legal guidance for Texas and what they have to consider if someone is mentally retarded and should be ineligible for execution. And what the courts have done is ended up relying on stereotypes. One of the stereotypes they relied on was Lennie in John Steinbeck’s novel, a fictional novel, Of Mice and Men. People might remember him petting the bunny, is very distinctly a developmentally challenged person. The courts used him and said, you know, if he is not similar, the defendant before us doesn’t seem like this person, then we might use our own interpretation to say that he’s not mentally retarded. We have a statement from him that I can read part of, if you like.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the son of John Steinbeck.
RENÉE FELTZ: That’s right. He writes, quote, "Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, I had no idea that the [great] state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e., Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men, as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Renée, you’ve worked on this for a long time. Can you say a little about how Texas compares to other states in dealing with mentally challenged?
RENÉE FELTZ: What Texas needs to do is pass legislation that guides the courts. Clearly, if you leave a situation like this in the courts’ hands, you have what happened today, or last night.
AMY GOODMAN: The execution of Marvin Wilson with an IQ of 61 by a single injection.
RENÉE FELTZ: That’s right. And we have heard the difference between the three-drug cocktail and the single-drug cocktail. This is the second time it’s been carried out this way in Texas. And significantly, it takes almost twice as long for it to occur, and the witnesses say you can barely tell when someone has passed away.
AMY GOODMAN: Renée Feltz, thanks for being with us, Democracy Now!’s Renée Feltz.