Texas Set to Kill Intellectually Disabled Man on Thursday

Barring any last minute action by the United States Supreme Court, Robert Ladd will be executed Thursday night by the state of Texas. Ladd, convicted for the 1996 murder of Vicki Ann Garner, will be the second inmate on Texas' death row killed in 2015.

Texas' highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, denied Ladd's final request for a stay of execution Tuesday, despite his long-documented history of intellectual disability. In a 2005 U.S. District Court hearing held to determine whether Ladd met Texas' statutory definition of "mentally retarded," a defense expert testified that Ladd's IQ was 67 and that Ladd had significant functional deficits in areas like work, money, social and communication skills. The state's expert at the hearing agreed with the defense about Ladd's functional problems, but blamed them on an anti-social personality disorder rather than an intellectual disability.

The district court judge found that Ladd had "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning," but refused to find that Ladd's functional deficits were "significant," a requirement for Texas to classify someone as "mentally retarded" for the purposes of whether or not it is OK to kill that person.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing the intellectually disabled is unconstitutional, but left each state to determine what standard of disability each would use. Texas' standard is, partly, based on John Steinbeck's character Lennie, from the novel Of Mice and Men.

"Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt. But, does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?" the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in its 2004 opinion on the appeal of Jose Garcia Briseño.

Ladd was classified as "fairly obviously retarded" by the Texas Youth Commission when he was 13. At 36, he qualified for services from the Andrews Center in Tyler, which helps the intellectually disabled and mentally ill.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young