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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ind. Decisions - New Supreme Court ruling on death penalty and mental retardation today [Updated 9/14/05]

Tommy R. Pruitt v. State (9/13/05, 42 pp.)

Boehm, Justice.

Tommy Pruitt was charged with the murder of Deputy Daniel Starnes of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department. The prosecutor sought the death penalty based on the fact that the victim was a law enforcement officer killed in the course of his duties. Pruitt sought to have the death penalty charge dismissed on the ground that he is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury subsequently convicted Pruitt and recommended death. The trial court imposed that sentence. We conclude that the trial court’s finding that Pruitt is not mentally retarded is supported by the evidence. We also hold that, with one exception, the Indiana statutory provisions governing determination of mental retardation are consistent with the Eighth Amendment as explained in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). We affirm Pruitt’s conviction and sentence. * * *

Conclusion. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed. [p. 34]

Sullivan, J., concurs.

Shepard, C.J., concurs in result with separate opinion. [p. 35]

Dickson, J., concurs in result with separate opinion, in which Shepard, C.J., joins. [p. 36]

Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion. [p. 37, which concludes at p. 42]

Conclusion. It is clear to me that Pruitt is mentally retarded even under a standard requiring proof by clear and convincing evidence. Under the relaxed standard the Court announces today, the fact of Pruitt’s mental retardation is even more apparent. Accordingly a death sentence is constitutionally and statutorily impermissible in this case. This cause should be remanded to the trial court with instructions to impose a sentence of a term of years.

[Updated 9/14/05] Kevin Corcoran reports in the Indianapolis Star today:
The Indiana Supreme Court voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject convicted killer Tommy Ray Pruitt's request to take him off Death Row because he is mentally retarded.

Indiana has prohibited imposing capital punishment on the mentally retarded since 1994. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Pruitt, whose IQ has tested between 52 and 81, has not shown he is mentally impaired enough to have his life spared.

In addition, the high court struck down Indiana's requirement in state law that mental retardation be established by "clear and convincing evidence," saying the standard is too high and violates the U.S. Constitution.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 13, 2005 12:11 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions