EDMONDSON says he supports law to ban execution of developmentally disabled

Thursday, August 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Attorney General Drew Edmondson says he would support a law barring the death penalty for convicted murderers with severe developmental disabilities.

Edmondson told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he would not want such a law to affect people already on death row.

The attorney general said the law should include a definition of severe developmental disability. He said it should not pertain to defendants with sub-average intelligence since that would include half of the people on death row.

Edmondson said the common perception is that someone who is severely developmentally disabled cannot tell right from wrong and is unable to assist legal counsel. But the definition used by lawmakers and other officials is more complex, he said.

Factors include an IQ level of 70 or below, difficulty performing everyday tasks and signs of the condition before age 18.

``I would also urge a provision that there be some other method of presenting evidence (that a defendant is developmentally disabled) if that person did not go to school in the United States prior to the age of 18,'' Edmondson said.

Edmondson said a jury should decide whether a person is severely developmentally disabled. Those found to be severely developmentally disabled could be sentenced to life without parole but would not be eligible for the death penalty.

He also said the law should not be made retroactive to cover those who have already been sentenced to death because that would set off a new round of appeals and evidentiary hearings for most of those on death row.

The state Pardon and Parole Board could be allowed to use the new criteria when considering whether to grant clemency in death penalty cases, Edmondson said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, said he would file legislation next year to ban executions of the severely developmentally disabled. He said he would prefer to make it retroactive, but would make it prospective if it improved chances for passage by the Legislature.

The Death Penalty Information Center says 35 offenders with severe developmental disabilities have been executed in the U.S. since 1976.