Daryl Renard Atkins

DARYL RENARD ATK INS York County, Virginia Scheduled Execution Date: Atkins was found mentally competent by a Virginia jury on Frid

ay 5 August, 2005. A judge immediately sched uled his execution for December 2, 2005. Date of Offense: August 17, 1996 DOB: 1978 18 at time of offense Race: Black IQ: 59 In June, 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia, the Unit ed States Supreme Court found the execut ion of persons with mental retardation to b e unconstitutional. Mr. Atkins still sits on d eath row in Virginia. It was for a jury to de

cide if he was indeed mentally retarded an d thus not able to be executed. Recently, d efence attorneys failed to convince a jury t hat Daryl Atkins was mentally retarded. T he attorneys are planning to appeal. Case Overview On the night of August 16, 1996, Daryl Atkins and Wi lliam Jones went to a convenience store to buy beer. Atkins was, at that time, in possession of a firearm th at was concealed behind his belt. He asked several p eople around the store for money. Eric Nesbitt, a 21year-old airman stationed at Langley Air Force Base,

entered the store and had a short conversation with Atkins. Upon exiting the store, Atkins and Jones force d themselves into Nesbitt's truck. Atkins instructed Nesbitt to give him money from his wallet and then f orced him to withdraw money from an automatic tell er machine. Atkins and Jones took Nesbitt to a desert ed field in Yorktown and shot him eight times. Atkins has presented testimony that his over all IQ is 59, his verbal being 64 and his perfo rmance IQ 60. Based on these scores, the for ensic psychologist for the defense, Dr. Evan Nelson, has stated that Atkins falls in the ran

ge of being "mildly mentally retarded." Perso ns with an IQ of 59 have the cognitive ability of a child between 9 and 12 years of age. Nel son testified that Atkins did understand the c riminal nature of his conduct and that he me ets the general criteria for the diagnosis of a n antisocial personality disorder. Doctors for both the prosecution and defense agree d that mental retardation is based upon a combinati on of IQ and adaptive behavior. As asserted by the A merican Association on Mental Retardation, an indiv idual is considered to have mental retardation base

d on the following three criteria: intellectual functio ning (IQ) level below 70-75; significant limitations e xists in two or more adaptive skill areas; and the co ndition is present from childhood, which is defined a s age 18 or less. (AAMR, 1992). Dr. Nelson testified that Atkins had a limited capacity for adaptive beha vior. He pointed to his school records, which showe d that he scored below the 20th percentile in almost every standardized test he took. He failed the 2nd and 10th grades. In high sch ool, Atkins was placed in lower-level classes fo r slow learners and classes with intensive inst

ruction for remedial deficits. His grade point a verage in high school was 1.26 out of a possib le 4.0. Atkins did not graduate from high scho ol. Dr. Nelson testified that Atkins' academic r ecords "are crystal clear that he has been an a cademic failure since the very beginning." Dr. Samenow for the prosecution did not evaluate Atkins' academic records or anyone who had o bserved him prior to his incarceration. On June 20, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Cou rt held in Atkins v. Virginia that the exec ution of persons with mental retardation

was in fact unconstitutional Click here f or the full Opinion on Atkins v. Virginia. For summary and implications of the Atk ins decision click here Background: In Penry v. Lynaugh in 1989 ( 492 US 584), the US Supre me Court held that the execution of persons with mental retardation was not in violation of the Eight Amendment, instead mental retardation would be seen as a mitigating factor. In 2002, the Supreme Court again visited the issu e of capital punishment and mental retardation, this time

the Court held in Atkins v. Virginia (For summary and im plications of the Atkins decision click here) that the exec ution of persons with mental retardation was in fact unc onstitutional. This landmark ruling reflects a growing re cognition and consensus that those with mental retardati on simply do not possess the requisite degree of culpabil ity and consequently, a sentence of death is contrary to t he principle of proportionality. A person with mental retardation cannot fully app reciate the consequence of their actions or compr ehend the punishment that awaits them. Often m en and women with mental retardation lack the c

apacity to understand abstract concepts including those of death, waiving of rights, particularly in r egard to Miranda, and the right against self-incri mination, more commonly known as the right to s ilence. The implications of this permeate every as pect of their participation within the criminal just ice procedure to the effect that they lack the capa city to fully assist counsel in their own defense. The Atkins v. Virginia ruling ostensibly prevents t he execution of those persons with mental retard ation. However upon closer scrutiny the decision has profound limitations; Inherent within this de

cision are a number of problems, one of the most significant lies in the determination of the person as mentally retarded. Whilst stating that such ex ecutions are unconstitutional, the Court did not e xpound upon the definition of mental retardation . Instead the Court left this decision to the indivi dual states and thus in the vast majority of cases the jury to decide. The case of John Paul Penry exemplifies the limitations of this decision. Just two weeks after the decision in At kins, John Paul Penry was sentenced to death for the t hird time despite being consistently assessed from the

age of six as having mental retardation and an IQ of 5 0-63. The Texan judge and jury concluded that Penry was not learning disabled. The concept of mental retar dation is both illusory and elusive: juries have proven t o be reluctant to accept that the accused has mental r etardation, instead believing it to be easily faked. Inde ed, despite clear evidence to the contrary a juror in Pe nry's re-sentencing hearing stated that to him it was o bvious Penry was faking his mental retardation. This belief is further echoed within the dissent of J

ustice Scalia in Atkins who stated that mental retar dation could be "feigned," and the enhanced risk of wrongful execution was "laughable." The exact number of people with mental retardatio n facing death sentences or languishing on death r ow is unknown due to the very nature of the disabil ity: Identifying and qualifying mental retardation is exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons. Whilst the decision in Atkins is welcome, the problems ass ociated with the interaction of law and mental disa bilities have not yet been resolved.

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