Texas Takes Intellectually Disabled Inmate Off Death Row

Last week, a Texas criminal appeals court took a 64-year-old man off death row and resentenced him to life in prison without parole, after ruling that he was too intellectually disabled to be executed.

Randall Mays was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of two police officers in Henderson County, Texas. Since his sentencing, his lawyers have argued that Mays—who has schizophrenia and an IQ of 63—is too severely intellectually disabled to be executed. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing intellectually disabled inmates violates the Eighth Amendment.

“Those mentally retarded persons who meet the law’s requirements for criminal responsibility should be tried and punished when they commit crimes,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion for Atkins v. Virginia.“However, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct.”

Questions about May’s mental fitness to be executed are longstanding. In 2015, 2019, and 2020, judges stopped planned executions, citing concerns about mental fitness. According to The Texas Tribune, even an expert witness hired by the state of Texas testified that she couldn’t dispute Mays’ intellectual disability.

This latest ruling will solidify what almost a decade of delayed execution dates have made clear—that Mays’ myriad cognitive issues render him unable to understand why he is being executed and, ultimately, unfit to be killed by the state. 

“The evidence of Randall’s intellectual disability is overwhelming. He has a 63 IQ,” Benjamin Wolff, the director of the Texas Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “His intellectual deficits have been seen, and observed by others, throughout his life from childhood to military service, and throughout his adulthood.”

However, the Henderson County District Attorney’s Office, which originally prosecuted Mays, has expressed frustration that Mays was taken off death row. “While the justice [the families of the victims] deserve, and Randall Mays has earned is now not an option,” District Attorney Jenny Palmer said in a statement, “we gain small comfort in being able to say with confidence that Randall Mays will die in prison.” 

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