Last week the Alabama Supreme Court set an execution date for Holly Wood, a man who was convicted of killing his former girlfriend Ruby Lois Gosha in 1993 and sentenced to death, despite the fact that he has an approximate IQ of 59 – the score for a person of normal intelligence is around 100.
In federal court, the judge threw out the death sentence on the basis that Wood’s lawyer had failed to tell jurors of his client’s serious mental impairment. The Alabama justice system is severely underfunded and only $1,000 was allotted to Wood's defence to prepare for the penalty phase of the trial. In the11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the dissenting judge criticised a system in which an "inexperienced and overwhelmed attorney" was representing a man indicted on a capital offence. However, the majority voted to resinstate the death penalty when the prosecution successfully argued that Wood’s lawyer had not been “unconstitutionally ineffective”; while he may have made a strategic error it was apparently not such a grave mistake that his client’s life could be spared.
Although the state of Alabama defines any IQ score below 70 as “significantly subaverage intellectual functioning”, Wood did not demonstrate the exact deficiencies in adaptive functioning that Alabama law requires for the accused to be found mentally retarded and thus ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v Virginia. However, his low intelligence would have been taken into account at the sentencing hearing as a factor clearly suggesting that leniency would be appropriate. As it was, the jury voted 10-2 for the death penalty, the minimum necessary majority.
If the ten jurors in favour of execution had known that the man they were condemning to death only read at a third-grade level, and if even one of them had therefore changed his or her mind, the 2nd of September would pass for Wood like any other day. Instead, unless the Governor of Alabama sees fit to grant clemency, it will be his last day on earth.
Don't let Alabama Execute a Mentally Disabled Man! Change.org
Petition: Stop the execution of Holly Woods, on 2nd September, 2010 by the state of Alabama
A plea to stop the execution of Holly Woods, a mentally disabled man,on 2nd September 2010, by the State of Alabama.
I understand that a date of 2nd September 2010 has been set for the judicial execution of Holly Woods, currently a prisoner at Holman Correctional Facility. I also understand that it is within your remit to show clemency to Holly and commute his sentence to life imprisonment.
I would like to appeal to you in the strongest possible terms to commute Holly’s sentence. As you are no doubt aware, Holly’s case is controversial: he has an IQ of 59, which clearly classes him as mentally retarded.
At his original trial his attorney (who was apparently a novice ) did not make the jurors aware of Holly’s mental capabilities, and this would clearly have had an impact on the outcome of the trial. The jurors voted 10-2 in favour of capital punishment, which is the smallest majority that can lead to capital punishment. If Holly’s mental condition was made known to the jurors then it is without doubt that one or more of them would have voted against capital punishment.
I do not wish to downplay the enormity or seriousness of Holly’s crime, but I would like to make two points: firstly, in the case of capital punishment I believe that the state cannot and should not move to end a man’s life unless it is absolutely clear that the punishment is warranted and justified. In Holly’s case, for the reasons outlined above, it is neither warranted nor justified. Secondly I cannot see how any sort of justice can be served by the judicial execution of a man as mentally retarded as Holly.
The United States Supreme court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that executing those deemed mentally retarded was in violation of the Eighth Amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment. Holly Wood is said to have an IQ of 64, 6 points less than the score deemed by the state of Alabama as being "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning." He reads at a 3rd grade level and was said to function in a "borderline range" in his competency report, a report never shared with jurors at sentencing time.
Prior to the 2002 Atkins ruling, several states had already banned executions of the mentally disabled. Following the ruling, many more established procedures to help determine who actually qualified as "mentally retarded" and protect them against capital punishment. Despite the progressive actions of other state governments and a recommendation by the Alabama Court of Appeals, Alabama has yet to enact any such procedures or precautions.
Although the month of August doesn't allow enough time for Alabama lawmakers to write and enact legislation, it does allow time for you to review the case of Holly Wood and do what's right. I respectfully request you review Wood's case and grant him clemency before September 2, 2010.
Thank you for your timely action in this matter.
Contact Governor of Alabama Bob Riley
Greetings Governor Bob Riley,
I urge you to stop the execution of 50 year old Holly Wood, scheduled for September 2nd in Alabama. This man received inadequate legal representation as one of his attorneys hadn't even been practicing law for a full year. Wood has an IQ of 64. The state of Alabama recognizes an IQ score of 70 as being "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning." Executing this mentally retarded man would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty for any individual is already considered inhumane, cruel, immoral and uncivilized but when a mentally impaired individual is executed, that is simply barbaric. The death penalty is revenge, not justice. Public safety can be accomplished through imprisonment. Holly Wood needs rehabilitation and the death penalty completely denies the possibility and opportunity for rehabilitation and self-improvement. The state of Alabama must enact procedures to safeguard against the execution of the mentally retarded. One report found that Wood read at a third grade level and was in borderline range of intellectual functioning. The result after the trial by the jury was a recommendation of death by a vote of 10 to 2, the absolute minimum required in Alabama for the death penalty. Had Wood's mental status been divulged at the sentencing hearing, there's a high probability at least one of those jurors would have voted against the execution. I urge you to please grant clemency and save Holly Wood's life.