The U.S. Supreme Court will review a Florida case on Monday that condemned a man with an average IQ of 70 to death row.
Freddie Lee Hall, 68, is awaiting execution for the 1978 murder of pregnant 21-year-old Karol Hurst.
In the state of Florida a person with an IQ of 75 or less suffers from mental retardation and is capable of holding a job. On death row in Florida an IQ higher than 70 means an inmate is not mentally disabled and can face execution.
In nine tests between 1968 and 2008, Hall has scored as low as 60 and as high as 80. According to the state, his most recent test scores are between 69 and 74.
Florida attorney general, Pamela Jo Bondi, says the threshold between being able to work and being susceptible to execution are different because the “the risk of overdiagnosis of mental retardation is particularly pronounced.”
“[They] have every incentive to secure such a diagnosis,” she said.
Hall was on parole in 1978, when he spotted Hurst, who was 7-months-pregnant, at a grocery store. He and his accomplice, Mack Ruffin, abducted and raped the victim, then they beat and shot her to death.
Later that day, the two men drove Hurst’s car to a convenience store where they killed a sheriff’s deputy. In separate trials both men were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
The Florida Supreme Court threw out Hall’s death sentence in 1989, but he was resentenced to death by a new jury in 1991.
The high court is not assessing Hall’s guilt, but rather whether or not IQ tests deem he is intellectually disabled.
The court's 2002 landmark 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia exempted those with intellectual disabilities from execution, but it did not define who is and isn’t considered disabled.
The court cited "diminished capacities" to understand and process information, communicate, learn from mistakes and experiences, engage in logical reasoning, control impulses and understand the reactions of others.
"The Florida Supreme Court has redefined mental retardation so that it means something different — and narrower — than this court's decision contemplated," says Hall's attorney, Seth Waxman. "The predictable consequence of Florida's rule is that persons with mental retardation will be executed. Without this court's intervention, that will happen here."
"If the bar against executing the mentally retarded is to mean anything, Freddie Lee Hall cannot be executed," said Judge James Perry. He said Hall "is a poster child for mental retardation claims."
The state says there is no consensus about the right IQ limit on mental disabilities and no reason for the high court to impose one.