Convicted Texas murderer Johnny Paul Penry, whose claims of mental retardation have been debated by courts for 25 years, won reversal of his death sentence for a third time yesterday, reports the Houston Chronicle. A divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that jurors may have failed to consider evidence of Penry’s mental impairment because they were improperly instructed. Faulty jury instructions were the cause of two previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Penry’s sentence.
The Texas court sent Penry’s case back for what would be a fourth trial to determine his punishment. Judge Tom Price, in a 5-4 majority opinion, wrote that “there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed that it was not permitted to consider mental impairment outside of determining whether (Penry) is mentally retarded.” Penry was convicted of capital murder for the 1979 rape and murder of Pamela Moseley Carpenter, a 22-year-old woman who was attacked in her home. Penry, who had been paroled in August that year after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape, confessed to stabbing Carpenter in the chest with scissors. A prosecutor said that the case could be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’re sorry for the family of Pamela Carpenter,” he said. “They’ve been here before, several times.” The first Supreme Court ruling, in 1989, upheld the constitutionality of executing the mentally retarded, but vacated Penry’s sentence because a jury was not told that retardation can be considered as a mitigating factor.