- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

From combined dispatches

The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would hear an appeal by a Texas death-row inmate, a convicted murderer said to be mentally retarded.
The high court agreed to use the case of Johnny Paul Penry to clarify how much opportunity jurors in death penalty cases must have to consider the defendant's mental capacity.
The Supreme Court, on Nov. 16, gave Penry, who was convicted in the 1979 rape and murder of Pamela Carpenter, 22, in the east Texas town of Livingston, a last-minute reprieve so it could consider whether to hear his appeal.
Penry is said to have an IQ between 50 and 63, below the level of 70 considered to be normal intelligence.
Prosecutors have argued that Penry, 44, who confessed to the crime, is a sociopath pretending to be retarded.
He was convicted of killing Miss Carpenter, the sister of former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, with her own pair of scissors after forcing his way into her home and raping her. He was out on probation for a 1977 rape at the time.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, Penry's attorneys argued the jury that sentenced him to death was not properly instructed to consider his mental capacity and did not consider the "horrific" abuse he suffered from his mother as a child.
The high court also entered the debate over medical marijuana, agreeing to decide whether the drug can be provided to patients out of "medical necessity," even though federal law makes its distribution a crime.
The justices said they will hear the Clinton administration's effort to bar a California group from providing the drug to seriously ill patients for pain and nausea relief.
A California law passed by voters in 1996 authorizes the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes upon a doctor's recommendation.
However, the federal Controlled Substances Act includes marijuana among the drugs whose manufacture and distribution are illegal.
Government attorneys said a lower court decision allowing the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative to distribute the drug "threatens the government's ability to enforce the federal drug laws."
But the California group says that for some patients, marijuana is "the only medicine that has proven effective in relieving their conditions or symptoms."
The group's attorney, Annette P. Carnegie, said yesterday the federal Controlled Substances Act does not prohibit the distribution of marijuana for medical reasons.
"Those choices, we believe, are best made by physicians and not by the government," she said. Marijuana has been effective in relieving nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, decreasing weight loss in HIV-infected patients and reducing pain, she said.
Eight states in addition to California have medical-marijuana laws in place or approved by voters: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado. Residents of the District of Columbia voted in 1998 to allow the medical use of marijuana, but Congress blocked the measure from becoming law.
Justice Department attorneys said Congress has decided that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use."

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