LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) â€” Condemned murderer Johnny Paul Penry speaks slowly, stammering at times as he searches for words.
``I don't understand. I just know they're going to kill me,'' said the man described by his lawyers as having an IQ of 50 to 60 and the reasoning capacity of a 7-year-old.
After 21 years in prison, two competency trials, two murder trials and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the mentally retarded and the death penalty, Penry faces execution by injection Thursday night for raping a woman and stabbing her to death at her East Texas home in 1979.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday denied Penry's request for a 30-day reprieve and a commutation to a lesser sentence. Gov. George W. Bush's only option now is to grant a one-time, 30-day reprieve for Penry to pursue further appeals, but he will not decide until all court appeals have been exhausted, said his spokeswoman, Linda Edwards.
Penry's lawyers say he is retarded. Prosecutors say he is ignorant but not retarded.
The impending execution has drawn protests from Amnesty International, other death penalty opponents and the European Union.
``Why is it that my case is drawing a lot of attention?'' the 44-year-old Penry asked in a recent prison interview. ``How far away is it?''
If Penry and another inmate scheduled to die ahead of him are executed this week, he would be the 38th killer put to death this year in Texas, topping the state's record of 37 in 1997 and the most for any state in one year since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. Texas has at least three more executions set for next month.
Texas law has numerous provisions to protect incompetent defendants from being executed, including the stipulation that they understand the charges against them in court and are able to assist their attorneys, Edwards said.
Penry's first death sentence was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988. The high court ruled that the jury should have been told that he was mentally retarded before it considered punishment. He was retried and sentenced to death again.
One of his attorneys, Katherine Puzone, said that his intelligence was measured at 50 to 60 by ``IQ tests after IQ tests after IQ tests. The notion he is not mentally retarded I find offensive.''
``I'll argue the issue whether Penry is actually retarded anytime, any place, anywhere,'' countered William Lee Hon, a Polk County prosecutor. ``The bottom line: We don't believe he's mentally retarded.''
Hon noted that a prison psychiatrist last year withdrew his diagnosis of mental retardation, noting Penry was capable of work, had a working knowledge of his case and demonstrated an ability to read and write.
Penry would not be the first mentally retarded inmate executed. In August, Oliver David Cruz, whose IQ tested as low as 63, was put to death for the 1988 abduction, rape and killing of a woman in San Antonio.
Some two dozen states allow the execution of retarded killers, though some are considering laws prohibiting the practice. The Texas Legislature killed a bill last session outlawing the execution of anyone whose IQ is below 65, but it will revisit the issue next year.
Penry had been on parole for rape when he was arrested in the slaying of Pamela Moseley Carpenter, the 22-year-old sister of former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley. She described her attacker before dying. Among her bruises was a boot print that matched Penry's boot.
Penry said he willingly talked to police. ``I got scared. I told them I did it. I really did not. I kind of regret that now,'' he said.
``He knew exactly what he was doing,'' said Carpenter's father, Jack Moseley. ``The boy is slow. We know that. But he is smart. He knows what to do.''
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