A Texas prisoner’s death sentence was put on hold by a federal appeals court, two weeks after the botched execution of a prisoner in neighboring Oklahoma.
Robert Campbell, who was sentenced to die for a 1991 murder, had been scheduled to be executed yesterday. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans stopped the execution while Campbell’s lawyers pursue their claim that he can’t be killed because he’s mentally disabled.
Campbell was scheduled to be the first U.S. prisoner executed after a bungled attempt in Oklahoma last month left convicted murderer Clayton Lockett convulsing violently before he died of a heart attack. Oklahoma delayed the execution of a second prisoner who was due to die that day, pending an investigation.
President Barack Obama said Lockett’s execution was “deeply troubling” and asked the U.S. attorney general for an analysis of what steps can be taken to avoid such errors. Obama said at a news conference that “significant problems” in carrying out the death penalty, including instances of racial bias and cases in which inmates were later found to be innocent because of new evidence, raise questions about how it is applied.
Campbell’s lawyers claim prosecutors improperly withheld evidence of his poor results on standard intelligence tests, including one that showed he had an IQ of 68. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 decided that the death penalty can’t be imposed on the intellectually disabled.
Campbell’s “lifelong mental retardation was not proven until new evidence, long hidden by prosecutors and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, very recently came to light,” Robert C. Owen, one of his attorneys, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
The appeals court said Campbell and his attorneys haven’t had a “fair opportunity to develop” the claim that he can’t be executed because of diminished intellectual ability.
Campbell, who was convicted and sentenced to die in 1992, has filed multiple appeals. Campbell also sought a stay of the execution until the state of Texas disclosed more information about the drug that it planned to use on him. The appeals court has rejected that attempt.
The case is In re: Robert James Campbell, 14-20293, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (New Orleans).