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JACKSON – An attorney for convicted murderer Kevin Scott claims then-Circuit Judge Johnny Walls was right to set aside Scott’s death sentence due to the now-38-year-old man’s mental retardation.
The state, represented by Assistant Attorney General Jason Davis, insists Scott was faking.
“The problem we have (with this case) is that we can’t sanction the execution of somebody who’s mentally retarded,” said Chief Justice William Waller Jr. toward the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing Wednesday on Wall’s ruling, which the state appealed.
A Bolivar County jury in 2004 convicted Scott in the 1995 shooting death of 74-year-old Richard Lee during the course of a robbery. He also was convicted in the aggravated assault on Lee’s wife. The crimes were committed when Scott was just past his 18th birthday.
The Mississippi Supreme Court originally affirmed his conviction, but the U.S. Supreme Court sent it back for a new sentence hearing by Walls.
Scott’s attorney, Jim Craig of New Orleans, told the court Wednesday his client would have to be “an evil genius” to achieve exactly the same scores on intellectual tests given within hours of each other. The tests scored Scott in a range recognized as mentally deficient.
Davis insisted the testing procedure was wrong and not recognized in any other jurisdictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled years ago that mentally retarded individuals cannot be executed.
In the Scott case, the state argues that the defendant is faking his mental condition, which Walls believed to be sufficient in his 2014 decision to vacate the death sentence.
On Wednesday, several justices expressed concerns that medical and legal standards continue to evolve for the definitions of mental retardation.
Justices Jess Dickinson and Ann Lamar asked numerous questions of Davis and Craig about how the court is to adapt to changing standards, especially across the many years it takes for appeals to be considered.
At the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing, Waller said the court will consider the issues and decide whether to uphold Wall’s decision or send it back to circuit court for another look.
In this case, Dickinson said, the IQ testing at issue doesn’t appear to have been wrong.
Forty-seven Mississippi inmates are classified awaiting death sentences, several just a few legal proceedings away from their lethal injections being carried out. The youngest is 29 and the oldest 68.
Twenty are white, 26 are black and one of Asian descent.
Mississippi’s latest executions, at the State Penitentiary at Parchman, occurred in 2012 when six prisoners were administered lethal injections in separate events between Feb. 8 and June 20.