On Tuesday evening, Texas executed 54-year-old Marvin Wilson by lethal injection at the state prison, after the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal by his attorneys that, due to his intellectual disabilities, he should not have received the death penalty.
Wilson, who had been convicted of robbery and been incarcerated, was convicted of murdering 21-year-old Jerry Williams in November of 1992. Wilson had been arrested for possessing cocaine and believed that Williams had informed the police.
The Associated Press (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) describes Wilson’s last moments.
Before the lethal drug was administered, Wilson smiled and raised his head from the death-chamber gurney, nodding to his three sisters and son as they watched through a window a few feet away. He told them several times that he loved them and asked that they give his mother “a big hug.”
“Y’all do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint,” he said. “Take me home Jesus, take me home Lord, take me home Lord!”
He urged his son not to cry, told his family he would see them again, and then told the warden standing next to him that he was ready. He didn’t acknowledge his victim’s father, two brothers and an uncle who were watching through an adjacent window. They later declined comment.
As the drug took effect, Wilson quickly went to sleep. He briefly snored before his breathing became noticeably shallow. Then it stopped.
Wilson’s attorney, Lee Kovarsky, said that he was “greatly disappointed and saddened by the ruling” and that it was “outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines … to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution.”
Texas uses its own criteria to determine if an inmate has intellectual disabilities (referred to as “mental retardation” in the US).
The “Briseño factors” were created by Texas on its own, are not used by any other state and, according to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), are an “impressionistic ‘test’ [that] directs fact-finders to use ‘factors’ that are based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.”
Specifically, the Briseño factors are based on the character of Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. Thomas Steinbeck, Steinbeck’s son, criticized the state of Texas for using the representation of intellectual disability in his father’s novel as the criteria for determining such in inmates. As he said in a statement:
“Prior to reading about 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, ie Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men, as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die.”
Emphasizing that his father would be “would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way,” Steinbeck said that his father’s “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.”
I can only agree with Steinbeck in stating that the situation is “insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic” and is an object lesson for why the US needs to ban the death penalty.
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