- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

BENTON, Ill. (AP) - Attorneys for a man accused of fatally stabbing two bank workers and critically wounding a third in southern Illinois say he isn’t eligible for the death penalty because he’s intellectually disabled.

Judge Phil Gilbert has granted a motion made by the defense for a three-month continuance for an evidentiary hearing on the matter because James Watts’ mental status has yet to be determined, The Southern Illinoisan (https://bit.ly/2ekHMqB ) reported. The federal court hearing is now scheduled for Jan. 23, and his trial has been delayed to June 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the executions of people with intellectual disabilities are considered “cruel and unusual punishments.”

The state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011 through legislation and stopped executing inmates on death row in 2000.

However, the death penalty can still be sought as the ultimate punishment for eligible crimes tried in federal court. And in April 2015, federal prosecutors announced that they sought the death penalty for Watts, saying he was still considered a “continuing danger to the lives and safety of other persons.”

Watts has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in connection with the May 15 holdup in Cairo, Illinois.

Authorities have said Watts was taken into custody after driving the vehicle of one of the slain bank workers at speeds up to 100 mph and having a standoff with officers.

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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