Mentally Retarded Missouri Man Faces Execution; ACLU, Victims' Mother Ask For Clemency

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
March 2, 2001 12:00 am

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO–As lawmakers here consider a ban on executions of people with mental retardation, the American Civil Liberties Union is stepping up efforts to secure clemency for a mentally retarded Missouri man scheduled to be executed next Wednesday, March 7.

In a surprise announcement, the mother of the two victims in the case, Ginny Kerry, is also asking Missouri Governor Bob Holden to spare Antonio Richardson’s life.

“Whatever moral authority Missouri has to impose and carry out death sentences rests on the promise that it is applied fairly and to the right individuals,” the ACLU said in a letter sent to Gov. Holden on Feb. 28. “In the case of Antonio Richardson, we can say that neither is true.”

In addition to consideration of Richardson’s mental retardation, the ACLU cited his age at the time of the crime — he was only 16 years old — and reliable testimony indicating that he did not initiate the crime or play a major role in the deaths of two young women.

Of the three men involved in the crime, the victims’ mother is asking Governor Holden to execute only Marlin Gray, the man she believes instigated the attack on her daughters. Kerry’s request is the first public statement she has made in eight years.

Another disturbing aspect of the case is that, according to a juror’s sworn statement, Richardson received a death sentence because of a mistake in reporting the juries’ decision. “Had the results of the jury’s deliberations been reported properly, Richardson would have been sentenced to life imprisonment and not death,” the ACLU letter said.

“Each of these factors, considered separately, should move Governor Holden to grant clemency to Antonio Richardson,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Taken together, they paint an undeniable portrait of a wrongful death penalty conviction.”

Matt LeMieux, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, who signed the letter to Governor Holden together with Rust-Tierney, added that the Governor should at the very least delay the execution until the legislature has considered whether to pass a ban on execution of mentally retarded persons.

“What a cruel irony it would be for Governor Holden to allow the execution of a mentally retarded man to go forward when in a few months the state may well outlaw such executions,” he said.

In November 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to stay the execution of Texas death row prisoner Johnny Paul Penry and hear his appeal. Penry is mentally retarded with an IQ of 50 to 60 and the reasoning capacity of a seven-year-old.

Currently, 12 states and the federal government have passed legislation forbidding the execution of people with mental retardation, and 27 states and the federal government prohibit the execution of offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes.

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