No, I’m not taking it as lightly as the title might lead you to believe. But Texas has completed execution number 484, Marvin Lee Wilson, on August 7 at 6:27 PM. He is reputedly of “diminished mental capacity” with a measured IQ of 61.
A number of people are outraged, including John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas Steinbeck, who spoke out after Texas argued that Wilson should be executed and cited Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” character, Lennie Small, as an example of why those with intellectual disabilities should be executed. Thomas Steinbeck said, “I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.” He believed that it was wrong that “Texas would use a fictional character … as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic.”
The ACLU, who I normally agree with, and a number of others have made statements that the problem is that those with intellectual disabilities are often easily led. I agree. However, this was not Wilson’s first crime. According to the statement sheet at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, Wilson’s first offense, aggravated robbery, was in 1981, and he was sentenced to 8 years. He obviously got out early for some reason because he was sentenced to 20 years for robbery in 1987. He was paroled in 1991, and in 1992, he was arrested for the abduction and shooting of a 21 year old that he got into a fight with. He was, at the time, 34, and with an 11th grade education. (To put that in perspective, the two previous executions were both 19 with a 10th grade education.)
So what is the point I’m making here? Am I saying it was okay to execute him?
Yes. And no.
Here’s the thing. I have to worry about things like this. My son is autistic, and he’s got a diminished mental capacity. He’s been diagnosed as functionally MR. Is he really? Can’t say for sure. But let’s take it further – could he be accused of a crime, whether falsely or not? Yes. Could he be sentenced to death and not understand it? Seems that way. Does that worry me? Hell, yes.
But here’s the other thing. Wilson seems to have understood the idea behind doing something bad and being punished. He committed two previous crimes. He made a final statement, stating that, “Ya’ll do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint.” He wasn’t an innocent. He had the mental acuity to kidnap a man he got into a fight with and then execute him. He didn’t accidentally kill him. He didn’t slip up. He committed two robberies that netted him 28 years total jail time, and when he was out, he made the decision to kidnap and murder another human being.
I do believe in the death penalty. I don’t always believe in the criminal justice system. I don’t have enough facts to make a decision here, but I do have enough facts to say that this is something that everyone needs to think about and consider. What lines do we draw and where and why?