The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Robert Campbell, a convicted murderer who was to be lethally injected tonight in Texas. Campbell's attorneys argue that he is ineligible for the death penalty because he suffers from mental retardation. The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing mentally retarded individuals is a cruel/unusual punishment.
Campbell has been on death row since 1992, and his attorneys say that, just in the past several months, they have discovered three intelligence tests dating back to Campbell's childhood—and previously known to the state of Texas but never disclosed to Campbell or his representatives —that indicated he qualified as mentally retarded. Per the Fifth Circuit decision:
The evidence in the record before us is more than sufficient to satisfy Campbell’s burden of making out a prima facie showing of intellectual disability sufficient to warrant a successive habeas petition...
The evidence presented by Campbell at this stage indicates that, in 2003, the District Attorney’s office had in its possession evidence reflecting Campbell’s IQ score of 68, yet the State opposed Campbell’s 2003 motion to authorize a successive habeas claim based on Atkins on the basis that the “sparse” school records failed to establish intellectual disability.
The Court of Appeals stayed tonight's scheduled execution because they believe that Campbell has a chance to ultimately succeed in having his sentence changed to life in prison, though the court was careful to note that the state of Texas still has the right to respond to the new evidence presented by Campbell's team.
We reiterate, of course, that the evidence in the record before us has not been subjected to the rigors of the adversarial process and it may ultimately appear differently than it does now.
Campbell would have been the first inmate executed in the United States since the controversial and prolonged killing of Clayon Lockett in Oklahoma last month. The Fifth Circuit rarely stays executions; yesterday it denied a different Campbell appeal that argued he should not be executed because Texas had not disclosed the source of the pentobarbitol that was to be used to kill him.