Burt Prelutsky

Back in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded killers could not be executed, no matter how vicious their crimes. The argument that apparently prevailed with a majority of the justices was that the accused would be unable to assist in his own defense. At the time, I recall thinking that in a long history of dubious Court decisions, this one certainly ranked among the very worst.

Inasmuch as murderers aren’t accused of being ignorant, only evil, I saw no reason to take their IQs into consideration. The question shouldn’t have been whether they were qualified to argue on their own behalf, but whether they were guilty of taking a human life in cold blood. As ludicrous as it sounds, it would make as much sense to suggest that retarded people shouldn’t have their appendixes removed because they aren’t qualified to assist the surgeon during the operation.

I suspect that Hitler is responsible for this misguided compassion. However, there is a world of difference between the Nazis exterminating retarded people in order to keep the Aryan race pure and executing those who commit murder.

Now here we are five years down the slippery slope, and the California Supreme Court has now decided that a defendant may be spared the death penalty because he is mentally deficient in one area, even if his IQ falls within the normal range.

The seven justices, in a unanimous opinion, said courts may give greater weight to one measurement of IQ over another and that the appropriate way to measure intellectual functioning may vary from one case to another. In short, any judge who is personally opposed to capital punishment now has greater latitude than he had before to nullify a death sentence.

John Philipsborn, the fellow who represented a group of criminal-defense lawyers in taking the case to the California Supreme Court, gloated that the ruling would affect at least 28 prisoners currently on Death Row and at least eight defendants who are claiming mental retardation prior to their murder trials.

The decision was first and foremost a victory for Jorge Junior Vidal, who had been found guilty of the murder, torture and sodomy of 17-year-old Eric Jones in 2001. Apparently, Vidal thought Jones had tried to steal his car. So, while Vidal was capable of not only driving an automobile, but acting as the teenager’s judge, jury and executioner, the seven dwarfs on the Court determined that he fell short when it came to being a defense attorney.