'Unconstitutional… Unconscionable': Texas Executes Intellectually Disabled Man

Texas executed an intellectually disabled man on Thursday, violating the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits putting mentally impaired prisoners to death as cruel and unusual punishment.

Robert Ladd, 57, was killed by lethal injection Thursday evening for the 1996 murder of Vicki Ann Garner. The procedure lasted 27 minutes. In any other state, Ladd would have been considered ineligible for the death penalty due to his IQ of 67, according to the ACLU.

Ladd’s death highlights Texas’s continued thwarting of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, which not only protect the mentally challenged from execution, but also require that death penalty states use medically scientific definitions of those disabilities, rather than imposing their own standards. One of those rulings, Hall v. Florida, came in 2014.

Despite those rulings, Texas is still using its own controversial standards, the so-called “Briseño factors,” a series of seven vague social criteria—such as whether a defendant can display leadership, communicate effectively, or lie—to determine mental capacity. The Briseño factors, so named for the court ruling that detailed them, compare prisoners to Lennie Small, the lumbering and intellectually disabled character in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men.

“Texas aggressively pursued Mr. Ladd’s execution, despite the fact that our constitution categorically prohibits the use of capital punishment against persons with intellectual disability,” said Brian Stull, Ladd’s lawyer and a senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “Mr. Ladd… was executed because Texas uses idiosyncratic standards, based on stereotypes rather than science, to determine intellectual disability.”

In his final statement, Ladd told the sister of his victim that he was “really, really sorry.”

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“I really, really hope and pray that you don’t have hatred in your heart,” he told her. He said he hoped she could find peace. “A revenge death won’t get you anything.”

After his injection, Ladd said, “Stings my arm, man!” and began taking deep breaths, according to the Associated Press. He was pronounced dead at 7:02 PM.

Ladd’s death is the second execution of a mentally handicapped prisoner in the U.S. this week. Warren Lee Hill, who had an IQ of 70, was put to death in Georgia on Tuesday.

“We are eager for a court to address the fact that Texas’ unscientific standards can’t be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s decision in Hall v. Florida, mandating that states must use universal medical diagnostic practices rather than inaccurate and self-invented methods for determining intellectual disability,” Stull continued.

“However,” he added, “no future ruling can undo the unconscionable fact that tonight Texas ended the life of an intellectually disabled man who deserved the protection of the Constitution.”

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