- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

HUNTSVILLE, Texas, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A Texas death row inmate facing execution Tuesday is arguing he should be given more time to show he is mentally retarded.

The U.S. Supreme Court last June outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded and a lawyer for Richard Williams is basing his final appeal on that decision. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was weighing the application Monday.

Williams, 33, was convicted of murdering Jeanette Williams, no relation, six years ago in Houston. He confessed to the contract killing, then pleaded innocent during the trial. He was hired to kill the woman for insurance money.

During his 1997 trial, an educational diagnostician testified for the prosecution that Williams was not mentally retarded. She said he scored a 93 on an IQ test when was six.

The Texas Legislature is considering a bill would classify defendants with an IQ of 70 or below as mentally retarded. State lawmakers are revising the law to conform to the high court's ruling.

Williams, who maintains his innocence, told the Houston Chronicle last week that he is mentally retarded.

Prosecutor Lynn Hardaway disputed his claim, saying Williams has average to low-average intelligence.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last June, at least five Texas death row inmates have won stays so courts could examine whether they are mentally retarded. Last week, Greg VanAlstyne received a last-minute stay so courts could review is mental condition.

Jim Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said Monday the only question now is whether Williams will get a chance to take the mental retardation issue back to the trial court. He said there are elements that must first be proven.

"It is not a claim that is easily fabricated or manipulated — the evidence is there or not," he said.

Williams must show sub-average intellectual functioning with a low IQ score, an inability to function in normal life functions, such as school, and prove the mental retardation existed before he was 18.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Atkins vs. Virginia was believed to be the court's most significant ruling on the death penalty in 25 years. At the time there were 20 states that allowed the execution of the mentally retarded.

Williams would be the ninth convicted killer executed in Texas this year and the 298th since the state restored the death penalty in 1982.

In his confession, Williams said Bruce and Michelle Gilmore offered him $12,000 to kill their friend, Jeanette Williams. They wanted to collect a $25,000 life insurance policy that they had taken out on the woman. The Gilmores are serving life sentences for their role in the murder.

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