The state of Texas executed Robert Ladd on January 29. Ladd likely would have been ineligible for the death penalty in almost any other state due to his disabilities.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his appeal on January 27, and the Supreme Court declined to hear a last minute appeal from the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Ladd in the case.
Ladd, 57, was first convicted at age 21 of a triple murder of a woman and her two children. After serving 16 years of his 40-year sentence, he allegedly murdered 38 year-old Vikki Ann Garner in 1996. A jury convicted him the next year and found him eligible for the death penalty.
In 2002, the Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia, ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment categorically excludes the use of the death penalty against people with severe disabilities. In doing so, it utilized a three-part definition of disability that looked at whether the person has significantly sub-average intellectual functioning; deficits in adaptive functioning; and an onset of these deficits in the developmental period.
The state of Texas uses a significantly broader definition of adaptive functioning. Relying on a 2004 cases from the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, the state requires petitioners to differentiate between symptoms of a personality disorder and an intellectual disorder. Texas is the only state in the country that uses this test.
The ACLU, in its appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the framework creates a false dichotomy, and that many of the symptoms overlap. In practice, the ACLU argues, the state allows Texas to ignore other significant factors demonstrating that he has a disability.
Ladd’s IQ has been measured as low as 67, lower than the 70 IQ cutoff that many states use when measuring intellectual functioning.
In addition, the ACLU points to a variety of other factors showing that Ladd’s disability was evident from a young age. At age 13, the Texas Youth Commission found that he was “fairly obviously retarded.” During the time he was on parole after being released from prison, he lived at the Andrew House, a home for people with intellectual disabilities, where he worked a sub-minimum wage job.
“Texas aggressively pursued Mr. Ladd’s execution, despite the fact that our constitution categorically prohibits the use of capital punishment against persons with intellectual disability,” Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project and Ladd’s attorney said in a news release. “Mr. Ladd, whose IQ was 67, was executed because Texas uses idiosyncratic standards, based on stereotypes rather than science, to determine intellectual disability.
His death is yet another example of how capital punishment routinely defies the rule of law and human decency.”