Statement of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
Sunday, June 17, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Ellis Statement on Veto of Ban on Death Penalty of Mentally Retarded

(Austin)//Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement regarding Governor Rick Perry's veto of legislation to ban the execution of the mentally retarded:

"I am extremely disappointed by Governor Perry's decision to veto legislation to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. In my view, it was a short-sighted decision that will only further stain Texas' image across the nation and the globe. Frankly, I'm embarrassed for Texas.

"After years of national and international criticism, the Texas Legislature stepped up to the plate and worked hard to repair some of the flaws in our criminal justice system. We passed a law allowing inmates access to DNA testing and a law to increase compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned; we outlawed racial profiling; overhauled our indigent criminal defense system, and finally passed the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. Unfortunately, Governor Perry's veto of the ban on the execution of the mentally retarded is what will be remembered, and Texas will continue to be viewed as bloodthirsty and callous.

"Contrary to the spin of others, this bill was not a backdoor attempt to ban the death penalty, and it would not have let criminals go unpunished. It would merely ensure that the ultimate punishment is reserved for those who deserve it most. Also, to claim that we have never executed the mentally retarded is just flat wrong. Texas has executed six offenders with mental retardation, the most recently last August. The protections that opponents of this legislation claim protect the mentally retarded merely lumps mental retardation in with a number of other factors. In my view, mental retardation should not be a mitigating factor, it should be the defining issue.

"This never should have been a fight. The simple fact is that seventeen state legislatures -- and the U.S. Congress -- have passed legislation to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. Two other states -- California and North Carolina -- are debating the issue. In each of those states, there was broad, bipartisan support and leadership from the top. Now, instead of showing leadership on a difficult and emotional issue, Texas stands alone as the only state to pass a plan and then have it vetoed. What a shame.

"Governor Perry had an historic opportunity to show the world that we are not only tough on crime, but fair and compassionate as well. He missed that opportunity. Texas could have taken a strong moral stand; instead, we must once again wait for the Supreme Court to force us do the right thing. I firmly believe that later this year the U.S. Supreme Court will do just that by outlawing the execution of the mentally retarded. If that happens, Texas will not only look bloodthirsty, but foolish."