Texas Executes Man with IQ of 61

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On Tuesday, August 8, at 6:00 p.m., the state executed Marvin Wilson via a lethal injection.  Marvin's IQ was 61 – nine points below the official threshold for mental retardation.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in Atkins vs. Virginia that executing people with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, most death penalty states have implemented guidelines regarding to who is and is not eligible for execution under these guidelines.  In most cases, anyone with an IQ under 70 is exempt.  But Texas uses a set of unscientific social factors called the “Briseño factors”  – so unscientific that they were largely inspired by John Steinbeck's touching, yet entirely fictional portrayal of Lennie Small in the classic Of Mice and Men.  Essentially, and as we saw with the case of Marvin Wilson, a person can be legally and unequivocally mentally handicapped and still be executed in Texas.

A New York Times editorial explains that despite being legally mentally retarded and having the lowest IQ of anyone executed in Texas, the state was not convinced that Wilson was mentally handicapped enough to escape execution:

“Texas has never contested Marvin Wilson's claim of mental retardation. The state has simply refused to accept him as retarded enough to be exempted from execution. His lawyers told the Supreme Court in a brief, 'If he does not obtain federal habeas relief, he will own the grisly distinction as the Texas Atkins claimant executed with the lowest' undisputed I.Q. score.

A Dallas Morning News editorial calling for a stop to the execution provides further detail on what was involved in Wilson's psychological assessment:

“The person scheduled for execution today – Marvin Wilson of Beaumont – has undergone a comprehensive assessment only by a board-certified neuro-psychologist working for the appeals team. That expert found Wilson to have 'mild mental retardation.' The state did not conduct its own expert assessment, relying instead on documents collected over the years and the impressions of those who have known him, including prison guards who judged Wilson to be 'normal' and 'appropriate.'”

Aside from the moral dilemmas surrounding the death penalty generally, the state's track record calls into question whether it is competent enough to continue to administer such a final punishment.  But if nothing else, the state needs an objective and humane definition of what constitutes mental handicap before anyone else is arbitrarily put to death.


About Author

Emily Cadik

Emily is a Texas ex-pat and proud Longhorn living in Washington, DC, where she remains connected to the Lone Star State through her work on BOR and her enthusiasm for breakfast tacos. She works on affordable housing policy, and writes about health care, poverty and other social justice issues.


  1. Marvin Wilson was not retarded.

    As shown in the appellate ruling, below, all indications in Wilson's life are that he was not mentally retarded, as the additional IQ tests, also below, confirm.

    When I first heard about this case, it took me about 30 seconds to find this decision, below.

    Wilson murdered police informant Jerry Williams, to protect Wilson's drug dealing.

    Obviously, he knew exactly what he was doing and he planned it.

    Wislon claimed to be a chess player.

    “The following evidence was presented in two hearings during the state habeas proceedings.”

    “Wilson presented school and prison training records, including standardized testing results. Five I.Q. scores are reflected in those reports. The first I.Q. test, the Lorge-Thorndike, was administered by Wilson's school when he was approximately 13 years old. Wilson's full-scale score on this test was 73. At age 29, Wilson was given an I.Q. test by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and scored 75. In April 2006, when Wilson was 46 and during the post-conviction proceedings, Wilson scored 61 on the WAIS III I.Q.”

    “Case: 09-70022 Document: 00511667534 Page: 10 Date Filed: 11/16/2011 test.”

    “On further testing by the defense, Wilson scored 75 on the Raven Standard Progressive Matrices and 79 on the TONI-II I.Q. tests. A score of 70 or below supports a finding of mental retardation. ”



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