High Court Narrowly Gives LA Inmate Hearing On Execution Appeal


The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that a death row inmate in Louisiana was entitled to a hearing to determine whether he is intellectually disabled, and so may not be executed, the New York Times reports. Yesterday’s decision concerned Kevan Brumfield, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for killing Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer. Seven years later, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. Brumfield tried to be spared on that ground, but was denied a hearing. A state judge reasoned that the evidence submitted at the trial was enough to resolve the issue against him even though he had not argued that his intellectual disability was a reason to bar his execution.

A federal trial judge disagreed, saying Brumfeld's I.Q. and limited abilities to perform basic functions proved that he was disabled. A federal appeals court disagreed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said Brumfield's I.Q., of 75, and his difficulties with learning and performing ordinary tasks were enough to raise reasonable doubts about his intellectual capacity. Justice Clarence Thomas filed an impassioned dissent that set out in detail the horror of the crime and its devastating impact on Smothers's family. He posted Brumfield's videotaped confession on the Supreme Court's website and of including a photograph of Smothers in an appendix to his opinion. Justice Thomas accused the majority of disregarding “the human cost of its decision.”

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