Press Release from State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 28, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Legislators Urge Perry to Sign Bill to Ban Execution of Mentally Retarded
Ask Governor to back strengthened Jeb Bush plan

(Austin)// Representative Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) led a group of legislators in an effort to urge Governor Rick Perry to sign legislation to ban the execution of the mentally retarded.

This weekend, the House and Senate approved HB 236, a new plan to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. The proposal is a strengthened version of a law recently supported and passed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

"The Texas Legislature showed tremendous leadership by finding consensus on this very difficult and emotional issue," said Ellis. "It is time for Texas -- the world leader in executions -- to take a stand and do what's right. I urge Governor Perry to join us, and the overwhelming majority of Texans, and support the effort to ban the execution of the mentally retarded."

"This is a very significant piece of legislation and I applaud Chairman Hinojosa, Chairman Ellis and my fellow conferees for working so diligently to come up with a product that we could agree upon," said Senator Mike Moncrief (D-Fort Worth). "This was no easy task, but I think most Texans realize that the death penalty is not an appropriate sentence for people who lack the mental capacity to fully understand the consequences of their actions."

Currently, 15 states -- Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington -- and the federal government have passed laws prohibiting the execution of people with mental retardation.

Opponents of the legislation have said that Texas should wait for the Supreme Court -- which is scheduled to rule on the constitutionality of executing offenders with mental retardation -- before taking action. But, in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Penry v. Lynaugh, that the states must show leadership of the issue.

"I see little point in hiding behind the Supreme Court's robes and waiting for them to act," said Ellis. "The legislature -- backed by an overwhelming majority of Texans -- says we should not execute the mentally retarded. It is time for Texas to take a stand, not hide behind the Supreme Court, and do what's right. We've waited long enough."

A recent Houston Chronicle poll showed 68% of Texans support the death penalty, but 76% oppose the execution of the mentally retarded. Under HB 236, life imprisonment would become the maximum penalty an offender found to be mentally retarded could face if convicted of a capital crime. In Texas, six offenders with mental retardation have been executed since 1976.