U.S. appeals court stays Ohio death row inmate's potential execution

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 07, 2015 2:54 PM

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday granted an Ohio death row inmate's request to stay his potential execution, saying lower courts failed to properly weigh his intellectual abilities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati said in its opinion that Ohio state courts incorrectly applied the law with regard to whether Andre Williams was intellectually disabled. It sent the case back to the district court to reconsider Williams' argument that he was ineligible for the death penalty because of his low mental capabilities.

"We note that clearly established federal law ... requires courts to consider all relevant evidence bearing on an individual's intellectual functioning," Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the ruling.

In 1989, Williams, now 48, was convicted and given the death penalty for the aggravated murder of George Melnick, 65, and the attempted rape and attempted murder of Katherine Melnick, also 65.

Williams appealed his death sentence, but an Ohio county court and the state's 11th District Court of Appeals ruled against Williams’ right to an evidentiary hearing in the matter.

His attorneys argued that records showed Williams at the age of 15 had a “social age of nine” and an IQ of 67, which met the criteria for the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard of intellectual disability.

State attorneys countered Williams' adult IQ was 75, based on a test administered in prison. That was within a five-point margin of error of the lowest score possible for allowing the death penalty.

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Moore admonished the lower court for relying on intelligence tests that are imprecise and said the childhood IQ score "was directly relevant to the obviously extremely important issue of whether Williams should live or die based on his intellectual functioning."

There is no date scheduled for Williams’ execution and a district judge has stayed all executions in the state until 2016 so Ohio can procure the drugs needed in the lethal injection.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Editing by Ben Klayman and Lisa Lambert)