Amid Secrecy Claims, Court Halts Texas Execution

The state’s Tuesday execution would have been the first in the U.S. since Oklahoma’s botched attempt two weeks ago.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
May 13, 2014, 1:37 p.m.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 5th Cir­cuit has stayed the ex­e­cu­tion of a Texas death-row in­mate just hours be­fore he was sched­uled to be put to death on grounds the state with­held in­form­a­tion in­dic­at­ing he is men­tally dis­abled.

Robert Camp­bell would have been the first per­son ex­ecuted in the United States since Ok­lahoma’s botched at­tempt two weeks ago. But the 5th Cir­cuit deemed that his law­yers were not giv­en enough time to make a case his ex­e­cu­tion should not go for­ward for men­tal health reas­ons.

“It is re­gret­table that we are now re­view­ing evid­ence of in­tel­lec­tu­al dis­ab­il­ity at the el­ev­enth hour be­fore Camp­bell’s sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion,” the court wrote. “Be­cause of the unique cir­cum­stances of this case, Camp­bell and his at­tor­neys have not had a fair op­por­tun­ity to de­vel­op Camp­bell’s claim of in­eligib­il­ity for the death pen­alty.”

Camp­bell’s law­yers had filed two last-minute ap­peals re­quest­ing that the 41-year-old con­victed mur­der­er’s ex­e­cu­tion be put on hold.

The first ap­peal con­ten­ded that the secrecy sur­round­ing the leth­al-in­jec­tion drug planned for Camp­bell’s ex­e­cu­tion could lead to a grue­some scene sim­il­ar to the one wit­nessed in Ok­lahoma, where Clayton Lock­ett died of heart fail­ure 43 minutes after his vein col­lapsed. Pris­on of­fi­cials in Ok­lahoma have tem­por­ar­ily hal­ted ex­e­cu­tions as the state in­vest­ig­ates what went wrong.

The second — and ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful — ap­peal claimed that Texas failed to dis­close evid­ence that sev­er­al of Camp­bell’s IQ scores in­dic­ated he is men­tally dis­abled.

“It is an out­rage that the State of Texas it­self has worked to frus­trate Mr. Camp­bell’s at­tempts to ob­tain any fair con­sid­er­a­tion of evid­ence of his in­tel­lec­tu­al dis­ab­il­ity,” Robert C. Owen, an at­tor­ney for Mr. Camp­bell, said be­fore the court’s de­cision. “State of­fi­cials af­firm­at­ively misled Mr. Camp­bell’s law­yers when they said they had no re­cords of IQ test­ing of Mr. Camp­bell from his time on death row. That was a lie. They had such test res­ults, and those res­ults placed Mr. Camp­bell squarely in the range for a dia­gnos­is of men­tal re­tard­a­tion.”

Un­der a 2002 Su­preme Court rul­ing, in­mates deemed men­tally re­tarded are in­eligible for the death pen­alty.

A day earli­er, the 5th Cir­cuit had re­fused to grant a stay over the secrecy of where Texas ob­tained its leth­al drugs, on grounds that the state had the right to pro­tect the iden­tity of the chem­ic­al sup­pli­er. That mat­ter had been ap­pealed to the Su­preme Court, though the is­sue is now moot.

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