NEW legislation, trial delay could spare murderer's life

Sunday, September 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A delay in a trial for a convicted double-murderer could mean life or death, his attorneys said.

Darrin Lynn Pickens would have a smaller chance of going to Oklahoma's execution chamber if his trial occurs after a proposed law that would bar the execution of mentally disabled defendants is passed.

Pickens' trial is set for Sept. 10. That's before the Legislature plans to consider a ban of the death penalty for convicted murderers who are mentally disabled.

The timing means Pickens ``runs the incredible risk that he will be sentenced to death when a simple delay may have spared his life,'' say his attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders Paula Alfred and Sid Conway.

But a prosecutor disagrees.

Assistant District Attorney Larry Edwards said its questionable whether Pickens is severely mentally disabled. He has earned different IQ scores when tested at different times.

Tulsa County District Judge Linda Morrissey last week rejected a defense motion to strike the death-penalty option for Pickens after his attorneys claimed he is mentally retarded.

Pickens, 36, was convicted of murdering two store clerks in a five-day span 11 1/2 years ago. His death sentence was overturned.

State Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Wednesday that he supports enacting a law to ban executing murderers with severe developmental disabilities.

Edmondson said such a law should not be made retroactive to cover those who have already been sentenced to die, but should apply only to cases where the sentence is imposed after the change takes effect.

Edmondson's proposal would involve application of several criteria, including an IQ of 70 or below and evidence that the condition existed prior to age 18. A jury would apply the criteria and decide whether a death sentence is appropriate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, plans to file legislation next year that would prohibit executions of the severely developmentally disabled.

Pickens' attorneys said in a brief that his trial should be delayed ``considering that a matter of months could make Mr. Pickens death ineligible.'' They said it would be ``arbitrary and capricious'' to deny him the ``protection of legislation that is designed to protect persons of his class.''

At his 1990 Tulsa County trial, a psychologist testified that Pickens had an IQ of 77, which placed him in the ``borderline mental retardation category.''