Johnny Paul Penry, a murder convict described by his lawyers as mentally retarded, has been sentenced to die three times by three different Texas juries, says the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the first two sentences, ruling in 1989 and 2001 that jurors were improperly instructed on how to weigh his mental condition when deciding his punishment. Last week, the high court refused to reinstate a third death sentence, imposed in 2002, that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned last fall.
Polk County prosecutor William Len Hon said he would consult with the victim’s family and meet with Penry’s lawyers before deciding the next step. He could seek another sentencing trial or agree to life in prison for Penry, who at 50 has spent more than half his life on death row. Hon is concerned about a Texas law in force at the time of Penry’s conviction that made inmates serving life terms eligible for parole after 20 years. Penry has been locked up for 26 years. He was on parole for another rape when he forced his way into a woman’s house in 1979, beating and raping her, stabbing her to death with a scissors. In 1992, in the middle of Penry’s third sentencing trial, the Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision and barred capital punishment for retarded killers.