The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held on May 13 that TDCJ withheld mitigation evidence that supported capital defendant Robert James Campbell's claims of mental retardation (an "Atkins" claim, in legal parlance), ordering a stay of his execution. The federal court ordered an adversarial hearing to determine whether the withheld evidence supported the defendant's claims of mental retardation.
week before, the Texas Court of Criminal had denied Campbell's writ on
the same topics, but a dissent by Judge Elsa Alcala (joined by Judges Price and Cochran) suggested that, "Had
TDCJ not misinformed former habeas counsel regarding applicant's
available IQ test scores, then this Court would have had IQ testing
supportive of applicant's mental retardation claim ... and applicant
would have been able to make out a prima facie case of mental
"Furthermore," wrote Alcala, "although
there is nothing to suggest any impropriety of any kind by it, the
Harris County District Attorney's Office was in possession of material
evidence about applicant's possible, if not probable, mental retardation
at the time that this Court decided his Atkins claim in 2003,
but that information was not brought forward to this Court either by
applicant's former habeas attorney or by the prosecution."
I must say,
it's hard to understand the assertion that there's "nothing to suggest
any impropriety of any kind" if prosecutors had material evidence relevant
to Campbell's Atkins claim and failed to inform either defense counsel or the court.
The Fifth Circuit said this information was "in the exclusive possession of the District Attorney's office." I suppose Alcala is saying defense counsel may have been
ineffective in not asking for the information, even though they didn't know it existed. But surely prosecutors
should have proactively provided the information or at least not
withheld it in their own court pleadings.
See MSM coverage related to the case.
MORE: From The New Republic, "How Texas Keeps Putting the Intellectually Disabled on Death Row."