From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 26, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Time Runs Out on Ellis Bill to Ban Death Penalty for Mentally Retarded

(Austin)// Time ran out this week on SB 326, by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), legislation to ban the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders. The legislation, like hundreds of other Senate Bills, died when the clock ran out in the Texas House at midnight last night. Though the legislation was not released by the House Calendars Committee on Saturday night, supporters of SB 326 held out hope that it could still be recognized on the floor before last night's deadline.

"We are very disappointed that this important civil justice reform was unable to make it through the Texas House," said Senator Ellis. "It passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate and seemed to have widespread support in the House. We simply ran out of time."

Senator Ellis vowed to bring up this issue next session.

"We know Texans support banning the execution of the mentally retarded. I think we have moved this issue forward a great deal, which will help us get this legislation to the Governor's desk next session."

A statewide poll showed 86% of Texans support the death penalty, yet 73% of those same respondents said they oppose the execution of the mentally retarded. Under SB 326, life without parole would become the maximum penalty a mentally retarded offender could face if convicted of a capital crime. The legislation creates a rebuttal presumption of mental retardation for an offender with an IQ of 65 or below. Prior to trial, a hearing will be held to decide whether an offender is mentally retarded. A judge may take other factors into consideration when determining whether the defendant is mentally retarded.

Had SB 326 become law, Texas would have joined 12 other states -- Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, and Washington -- and the federal government in prohibiting the execution of people with mental retardation. In Texas, five offenders with mental retardation have been executed since 1976.