Local News

Debate Continues About Possible Ban Of Death Penalty For Mentally Retarded

Posted July 26, 2001 10:29 a.m. EDT

— State lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday banning the death penalty for the mentally retarded. If the governor signs it into law, North Carolina becomes the 18th state in the country to ban such executions.

For some inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh, the bill means trading death for life. According to the bill in order to escape execution, defendants must prove that they have an I.Q. of 70 or below and that they have problems functioning in society and their problems started before the age of 18.

Jonathan Brown represents 41-year-old death row inmate Ernest McCarver, who is one of the people who may be saved from execution. He says his client has an I.Q. of 67.

The U.S. Supreme Court is looking at McCarver's situation as a test case to banning execution of the mentally retarded for the entire country.

"This is a case that people are watching throughout the country and really watching throughout the world," Brown says. "There is something inherenly immoral and wrong about executing somebody who has the mind of a child."

While not all lawmakers agree with the specifics of the bill, the Senate passed it by a vote of 47 to 1. Senator Hugh Webster (R-Caswell) was the lone "no" vote.

"None of us want to go around executing mentally retarded people, but as I said on the floor [Tuesday], I want to put the killers out of our misery," he says.

The North Carolina Department of Correction estimates that at least three people currently on death row could be spared by the law.

Experts on I.Q. tests say scores for one person on the same test taken on different days may vary by as much as five points. This issue is likely to be a big point of contention when defendants who test close to the line are sentenced.