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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Controversy Erupts About Pending Execution of Person with Mental Retardation

We sent an email out today to more than 10,000 people urging them to call the governor. Keep calling Governor Perry at 512-463-1782 to get him to stop today's execution

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The scheduled execution tonight of a convicted Dallas killer has erupted in controversy after reports that a new test shows Derrick Lamone Johnson may be mentally retarded.

The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the execution of anyone who is mentally retarded.

Angered by a decision of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to confirm the execution of Johnson without reviewing the medical test information, then to stick with that vote in a second vote today, a group of lawmakers this afternoon asked Gov. Rick Perry to stop the execution slated for 6 p.m. tonight.

“It’s amazing to me how callous this system can be,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “After a cursory review of the file, they vote to hang ‘em high no matter what the new information shows.”

Just as upset are Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, both D-Houston, and Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, who petitioned the parole board late Wednesday for a second vote based on the new medical test just received in the case.

“There is no reason why the State of Texas should rush to execute this man, before it can be confirmed whether or nothe is mentally retarded,” Turner said. “The parole board appears hell bent on sticking with their decision in favor of execution … It makes no sense.”

Johnson, 28, a 10th-grade dropout, was convicted in the 1999 slaying LaTausha Curry, who was kidnaped, beaten, suffocated and robbed of $10.

Thompson and Hodge said the parole board voted before lunch Wednesday to deny a reprieve, even though they had been advised that Johnson’s new attorney — who just joined the case in early April — was rushing to gather and submit new test results about his mental capacity.

“The test showed he is mildly retarded, in the low 70s,” Thompson said.

Hodge said the attorney got the information to the parole board at 12:38 p.m., after the deadline. While the board initially declined to review its decision, intense lobbying from Thompson, Turner and Hodge brought a review this morning.

In a letter to the lawmakers, Board Chair Rissie Owens said the seven-member board reconsidered a request from Johnson’s attorney for a 180-day reprieve — and decided against it.

“We’ve been through this before with Judge (Sharon) Keller (presiding judge of the state Court of Criminal Appeals) closing the doors at 5 p.m. and not allowing new information to be considered,” Hodge said. “It looks like the parole board tried the same thing … and now is just sticking with it’s earlier decision.

“We should do everything we can to consider all evidence, even new evidence, in these cases before we put someone to death,” she said. “When you talk about the ultimate penalty, we shouldn’t rush, even when it’s the last minute.”

Bruce Anton, Johnson’s attorney, and Owens could not immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Perry’s office was checking to see whether they had received a request for a stay of execution for Johnson. Perry has the authority to delay the execution, even if the parole board has recommended otherwise.

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