AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - An inmate on death row in a Texas prison who was temporarily spared by the U.S. Supreme Court had his death sentence reinstated by a state court on Wednesday after it determined that he was competent to be executed, legal filings showed.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 had faulted Texas for its obsolete standard of assessing if the inmate was intellectually disabled. The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the execution of people who are intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal cases which is dominated by conservatives, said in a decision on Wednesday it had revised its standards to better reflect modern medical thinking and abide by U.S. Supreme Court directives. Under its new protocols, inmate Bobby Moore, 58, can be executed, it said.
“It remains true under our newly adopted framework that a vast array of evidence in this record is inconsistent with a finding of intellectual disability,” the Texas court said in a 5-3 decision.
Cliff Sloan, attorney for Moore, said the court’s ruling is “clearly an outlier that is inconsistent with the controlling intellectual disability standards.”
The district attorney for Harris County, where Moore’s crime took place, said in an October filing with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Moore’s life should be spared because he was intellectually disabled.
Moore was convicted at age 20 of fatally shooting an elderly grocery store clerk during a 1980 robbery in Houston.
In a Supreme Court ruling authored by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in March 2017 for the Moore case, the court held that the Texas system for gauging the intellect of defendants was deficient.
Legal filings showed it was based on standards adopted about a quarter century ago.
The Supreme Court decision came about a month after it gave another Texas death row inmate, Duane Buck, a chance to avoid execution because his trial was tainted by testimony from a psychologist who stated Buck was more likely to commit future crimes because he is black.
Chief Justice John Roberts denounced the “noxious strain of racial prejudice” seen in that case. Moore is also black.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 551 inmates, the most of any state. The figure is about five times higher than the state with the second most executions, Virginia, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Larence Hurley in Washington; editing by Bill Berkrot