Porfirio Jimenez has yet to stand trial in New Jersey on charges of murdering a 10-year-old boy in 2001 after luring him from a playground for sex. The Newark Star-Ledger says the state wants Jimenez sentenced to death, but prosecutors must convince a jury that Jimenez is not mentally retarded, as his lawyers claim. New Jersey is one of only two states with this requirement, the toughest in the nation. Prosecutor John McNamara told the New Jersey Supreme Court yesterday that the policy is “unworkable under our law as a matter of logic and as a matter of policy.” He argued that it should be the defendant’s burden to convince a judge, not a jury, that he deserves leniency because of his mental retardation.
Jeffrey Mandel, arguing for the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, said the safegard is the best protection against mistakenly executing someone who is mentally retarded. He urged the justices to tolerate “zero possibility of error when the ultimate punishment is death.” Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for those who are mentally retarded but said the states should work out their own rules for determining who is exempt. Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said, “New Jersey may be on the cutting edge of this issue. For about 100 death row inmates nationwide, he said, this “is a critical issue in who will live or die.” Other than New Jersey, New Mexico is the only state to require the prosecutor to disprove mental retardation.