USA - Federal. Federal judge William Lawrence vacated the federal death sentence of Bruce Carneil Webster

25 June 2019 :

Federal judge William Lawrence (U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana) has vacated the federal death sentence of Bruce Carneil Webster concluding the inmate can’t be put to death because he’s intellectually disabled. Webster, now 46, Black, was among five men prosecutors say kidnapped Lisa Rene from her Arlington (Texas) home in Sept. 1994 to get revenge on her two brothers for a botched $5,000 marijuana deal. Over two days, she was taken to Arkansas, gang-raped, bludgeoned with a shovel and buried alive. Tried in Fort Worth, Texas, Webster was sentenced to death in June 1996. Co-defendant Orlando Hall had previously been sentenced to death in November 1995. Webster is currently housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Attorneys for Webster had challenged his death sentence based on what they argued was previously unavailable evidence that showed medical professionals had determined before his trial he was intellectually disabled. Steven Wells, one of Webster’s appellate attorneys, called the ruling a “just outcome” for “an intellectually disabled man who never should have been sentenced to death.” Judge Lawrence sent the case back to the Northern District of Texas federal court in Dallas for re-sentencing. In his ruling on Tuesday, judge Lawrence said a review of Webster’s IQ scores from the last 26 years found that the scores “consistently demonstrate that Webster has an IQ that falls within the range of someone with intellectual deficits.” An IQ score of about 70 is considered a benchmark for intellectual disability. In the past 26 years, Webster has had IQ scores as low as 51 and 53. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, with Atkins v. Virginia, barred the execution of intellectually disabled people. Furthermore, with Hall v. Florida in 2014, the Court called for a less strict procedures for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. Webster’s appellate attorneys (from Dorsey & Whitney LLP and the Capital Project of the Federal Defender’s Office) had based their appeal in part on records they were able to obtain that showed that a year before Rene’s murder, the death row inmate had undergone several evaluations as a part of an application for Social Security benefits. The evaluations concluded Webster was intellectually disabled. Webster’s new attorneys have said his trial attorneys tried to get the Social Security records but were given nothing. According to Webster’s attorneys, this is a groundbreaking sentence because this is the first time any court in the United States has held a habeas hearing based on newly discovered evidence of intellectual disability, and the first time that a death sentence has been vacated on that basis. Besides Webster, Orlando Hall of El Dorado, Arkansas, was also sentenced to death for Rene’s murder. Hall remains on death row. There are currently 62 inmates on federal death row in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last federal execution took place in 2003.


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