Supreme Court decision raises more questions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 23, 2002

BNI Newswire

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor said a Thursday Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded inmates still leaves the definition of who is mentally retarded up to the states.

"The court’s decision today raises more questions than it answers," Pryor said. "The court did not adopt a standard for determining whether an inmate is mentally retarded and thus may not be executed for committing murder. The court did not prescribe a process for making that determination or declare who has the responsibility to make it."

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The high court’s 6-3 ruling in Atkins vs. Virginia reverses a 1989 ruling that said such executions were constitutional.

Pryor said the ruling also does not require states to use the definition of mental retardation provided by the American Association of Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association.

"It would appear that all of these questions have been left to the states," Pryor said.

The Supreme Court ruling states: "Not all people who claim to be mentally retarded will be so impaired as to fall within the range of mentally retarded offenders about whom there is a national consensus."

Alabama death row inmate Glenn Holladay’s execution had been stayed June 22, 2001, pending this ruling.

"We contend, as does Virginia concerning Atkins, that Holladay is not mentally retarded and should be executed as a matter of justice and law," Pryor said. "We will not waver from this position. As the issue of mental retardation is raised in the future, we will review each case upon its individual merits and circumstances. It is my duty as attorney general to enforce the death penalty as the law of our state. It is my duty to make sure that those who have the mental capacity to be held morally responsible for their actions are justly punished to the full and proper extent of the law."