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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Supreme Court Hears Case of Killer’s Low IQ

(CN) - The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a convicted killer's lawyer should have alerted the jury of the man's low intelligence level before he was sentenced to death. "It seems to me they made an intelligent decision," Justice Antonin Scalia said of the decision not to release the mental exam results.

"There was nothing here that was going to help them and there might be stuff that would hurt them," he said.

A man named Holly Wood shot his girlfriend while she slept. He had an IQ score between 59 and 64, placing him among the lowest one percent of the population. The test, however, did not declare him as mentally retarded.

An Alabama state court ruled that the failure to notify the jury of Wood's mental state did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.

Kerry Scanlon, with Kaye Scholer, represented Wood.

He said Wood's lawyers were wrong not to inform the jury of Wood's mental state, noting the information could have raised sympathy from the jury. He argued the state court during post-conviction review should have found that Wood had ineffective assistance to counsel.

Solicitor General Corey Maze represented the Alabama Department of Corrections and Commissioner Richard Allen. He defended the state court's holding that Wood could not claim ineffective assistance to counsel, and that there had been no unreasonable determination of fact.

Scanlon said the state court's decision violated federal law and was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.

"The state court is making a decision based on what's before it," Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. "It can't foretell unknown evidence and bring it into its equation, so one has to presume that its finding based on the evidence before it is correct."

Scalia disagreed on a different point. "Although he indeed was in the lower range of mental agility, this did not affect his ability to discern right from wrong," he said."

The 11th Circuit found that the state court's decision was correct in saying Wood's lawyers adequately considered the mental health defense.

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