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.