The U.S. Supreme Court threw out two Texas death sentences Monday, rebuking lower courts for disobeying its previous orders to make sure juries consider mitigating evidence, such as a killer’s low IQ, before deciding punishment. Without argument, the high court issued an unsigned 7-2 ruling reversing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in the case of LaRoyce Lathair Smith, reports the Houston Chronicle. The lower court had upheld the death sentence of the Dallas killer, who claims faulty instructions prevented jurors from sparing his life based on his 78 IQ and history of learning disabilities. The justices also rejected the sentence of Ted Calvin Cole, saying jurors were not able to fully consider his troubled childhood and emotional problems.
The justices chided the Texas criminal justice system. They said that despite several previous rulings, the Texas court failed to get the message that juries in capital murder cases should fully consider mitigating evidence. “There is no question that a jury might well have considered petitioner’s IQ scores and history of participation in special- education classes as a reason to impose a sentence more lenient than death,” the court said in a 12-page opinion. The justices said the state court “erroneously relied on a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected.”