(OKLAHOMA CITY) - The Oklahoma House reversed itself Thursday and passed legislation to ban the execution of mentally retarded convicts.
Two days after rejecting the measure, the House passed the measure 51-47 and sent it to the Senate for consideration. The bill's author, Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, said he is confident that senators will give the bill a fair hearing.
"This says that we are evolving continuously in the sense of what procedures should be considered," Toure said. "It means that our system is right in line with other states.''
The measure is based on laws in 18 other states that prohibit the execution of defendants who are classified as developmentally disabled.
Toure said it would prohibit the state from executing mentally retarded individuals for the crime of first-degree murder, the only crime punishable by death in Oklahoma.
Mentally retarded defendants may still be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"This does not excuse the individual," Toure said.
The House defeated the measure on Tuesday by a vote of 50-46. Toure served notice at the time that he would ask the House to reconsider its vote. His motion to reconsider passed 58-36.
The legislation would require courts to conduct pretrial hearings to determine whether a defendant was developmentally disabled. Defendants must show that they have an IQ of 70 or below and that the disability occurred before age 18.
Toure said there are no documented cases of a mentally retarded defendant being put to death in the state. A spokesman for the Department of Corrections, Jerry Massie, said the department generally does not assess the intelligence of inmates.
Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, argued against the bill, stating that it is an injustice to victims.
Graves said state law already provides safeguards to prevent a developmentally disabled person from being sentenced to death. On Tuesday, Graves said the measure did not conform to the concept of justice found in biblical scripture.
"The death penalty is mainly here to establish justice," Graves said. "We leave out the idea of justice in a bill like this."
Toure, an attorney whose father and brother were killed in separate homicides, said people with IQs of 70 or below function on the level of someone who is 9-to-12 years old.
He said developmentally disabled defendants may know right from wrong but should be treated differently by the criminal justice system because they may not understand the consequences of their actions.
The measure is House Bill 2635.