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Man could escape execution due to NC law

Posted January 30, 2012

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— A man convicted of murder in Wayne County more than 20 years ago could get off death row Thursday because of a North Carolina law that says mentally retarded defendants can't be executed. 

If a Wayne County Superior Court judge declares Marvin Williams mentally retarded, he would be the 17th death row inmate to escape execution since the law passed in 2001.

Williams killed Theron Price, a World War II veteran and security guard at Dewey Brothers in Goldsboro, where both men worked, during a robbery in 1989. Price died of blunt head trauma.

The legal battle became an emotional one Monday as Price's family sat on one side of the courtroom, hoping for what they see as justice, and Williams' family sat on the other side, hoping that his life will be spared.

Price's family and others are concerned that many judges are rubber-stamping the issue, simply letting people off death row. Attorneys who defend death row inmates say that's not the case. 

Williams, 50, sat quietly in the courtroom with his mother behind him as attorneys debated whether he fits the definition of mental retardation.

Defense attorneys acknowledged that mental health experts and advocates prefer to use the term "intellectual disability," rather than "mental retardation." However, that is how North Carolina law words it.

"(Williams) meets both criteria of the statute, that he was mentally retarded at the time of the crime, and therefore, the death sentence that was previously entered should be vacated," said defense attorney Glenn Barfield.

Theron Price Mental capacity may get man off death row

Under North Carolina law, a judge can declare a person mentally retarded if he or she scores 70 or below on an IQ  test and shows poor basic life skills before the age of 18. 

Those determinations are up to the discretion of judges and what weight they give to IQ tests. Williams has taken multiple tests and has scored above and below 70.

Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory argued that Williams knew exactly what he was doing when he repeatedly hit Price over the head, dragged his body into a nearby shed and tried to get into the company's safe with a blow torch.

"It might not have shown (he was) a rocket scientist, but I would contend to you that it didn't necessarily show someone who is mentally retarded, either," Vickory said.

The victim's nephew, Jerry Price, spoke at Monday's hearing and asked the judge not to confuse mental retardation with "cold-hearted meanness and laziness and a total disregard for human life."

"Putting someone to death is a very serious issue. There were laws in place in 1989 when Marvin Williams committed this murder. He violated those laws. A jury of his peers convicted him of his crime," Jerry Price said. "There has never been any doubt that he murdered my uncle. To date, he has shown no remorse whatsoever."

Ken Rose, an attorney with the Death Penalty Litigation Center in Durham, says that inmates were removed from death row in about half of the cases where they claimed mental retardation in the past decade.

None of the 16 people taken off death row under the mental retardation statute have been released from prison. The law also applies to other states, since the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision, after North Carolina's law passed, banning the execution of people with mental retardation.


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  • readme Feb 2, 2012

    His attorneys are laughing at society with a straight face. Look at the details of the case. This is a calculated killer. Maybe he isn't the brightest bulb in the pack, but come on, he knew what he was doing.

  • readme Feb 2, 2012

    If he's going to get off for cold-bloded murder, the last thing I want to hear is someone complaining that the term I use to describe his mental condition is not politically correct.

  • wildpig777 Feb 2, 2012

    the only people having an IQ of a 5 yr old child would be evryone involved in the nc criminal "justice" system......

  • DRC Feb 1, 2012

    The problem is that people sit on death row for 20 years. If someone is sentenced to death and there's no doubt that they committed these crimes the citizens should'nt have to pay for someone to eat 3 meals a day,have a place to stay and let them sit around writing books. Our court system's are the ones with the problem criminals just take advantage of how the system works..

  • josephlawrence43 Jan 31, 2012

    Can this man's victim escape their death due to some esoteric
    liberal/socialist system of excuses???

  • Lightfoot3 Jan 31, 2012

    “Or having roughly the same IQ as a 5 year old that makes this an issue.” – brmyspots

    Does a 5 year old kill for money? Do they know to hide the body? Wipe off fingerprints? Do 5 year olds hold jobs like this guy did? Would a 5 year old know how to function in society, drive a car, understand traffic rules, etc.? This guy might not be a genius, but he clearly was functioning as a normal adult in society, knows right from wrong, and knows the consequences of his actions. He committed murder for monetary gain, just like other criminals. He deserves to be punished to fullest extend of the law as any other criminal would be. And I personally think that should be the death penalty.

    And I’ll say that whether it’s a deterrent or not doesn’t factor into my support of the death penalty.

  • brmyspots Jan 31, 2012

    Laws and jury decisions are reversed if a minority cries "racism". Our government at work. There is no doubt of his guilt...that he killed Theron Price, but because he is black, the death penalty should not apply to him. whatusay

    Might want to read the article. Not about race or black/white. It's about him being of "diminished mental capacity". Or having roughly the same IQ as a 5 year old that makes this an issue.....not his race.

  • whatusay Jan 31, 2012

    Laws and jury decisions are reversed if a minority cries "racism". Our government at work. There is no doubt of his guilt...that he killed Theron Price, but because he is black, the death penalty should not apply to him.

  • love2dostuff Jan 31, 2012

    yes cantstandya. That's so very true. We're all convinced we're right in every argument, much to the detriment sometimes. We all have our own opinions and that's what matters....to us, and nobody else. This forum gives an outlet to share ideas and more importantly to "have our say".

    Maxx Erhmann wrote a piece of work that has a line within that says: "Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story". Have a good evening.

  • Lightfoot3 Jan 31, 2012

    “you are misreading it” – Ezekiel c23 v19to20

    Nope. It cites a few studies that say the death penalty is a deterrent (with data). Try reading it.

    “you want to prove me wrong” – Ezekiel c23 v19to20

    Why would I care if you’re wrong? I don’t have a clue, nor do I care who you are. You’re some Internet forum unknown. Sorry to bruise your ego, but I couldn’t care less if you’re wrong or not.

    “Again, no it does not” – Ezekiel c23 v19to20

    Again, actually read BEYOND the first paragraph next time.

    “Which makes it no less valid.” - Ezekiel c23 v19to20

    You’re comparing a subjective questionnaire with a political agenda to a scientific study with data points? Try again!