At least ten Texas death row inmates are seeking to have their death sentences thrown out in exchange for life in prison under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that changed how Texas determines intellectual disability, the Houston Chronicle reports. Some could eventually walk free because life without parole was not an option in Texas when they were convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 2002 for people with intellectual disabilities, but left it up to states to set standards for determining disability. A follow-up ruling in case overturned Texas’ method for determining intellectual disability, saying it was out of date and ineffective.
The ruling left Texas prosecutors and defense attorneys scrambling to review cases, some dating back decades. It remains unclear how many Texas cases will be affected. Attorneys on both sides are bracing for what could be a wave of appeals, with some putting the number in the dozens. “They could be looking at a nightmare,” said Tom Moran, a Houston criminal defense and appellate attorney who is representing one inmate in his attempt to get his death penalty overturned. Some relatives of victims are unhappy. “There’s a lull where you’re waiting on justice, for maybe a decade, and you’re riding that roller coaster and all of a sudden that coaster gets taken down because you’re right back in court again,” said Andy Kahan, victims advocate for the city of Houston. “And you have to re-live all the nightmares of what happened to your family.”