Commentary: Why Bobby Moore should not be on Texas’ death row

  • Peter V. Berns and Ana Martinez
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:00 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 Opinion

A man with intellectual disability – Bobby Moore – sits on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. Like every person on death row in Texas, Moore is in constant solitary confinement – about 23 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. For people with intellectual disability, solitary confinement is especially agonizing, cruel and intolerable.

It is against the law to execute people with intellectual disability in Texas and throughout the country. Everyone, including the Harris County district attorney’s office, agrees that Moore has intellectual disability, and that his death sentence should be commuted to life in prison to get him off death row — where he does not belong, since he cannot be executed—and out of solitary confinement.

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Our organizations —The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Texas — promote and protect the civil and human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in all aspects of life, including the criminal justice system. The Arc has long advocated for capital defendants with intellectual disability to ensure their disability is properly diagnosed and considered in sentencing and that they receive appropriate accommodations while incarcerated. Research shows that for people with intellectual disability, being held in solitary confinement is particularly damaging and destructive. The fact that Moore continues to be held in such conditions is an urgent problem.

There is no longer any real dispute that Moore has intellectual disability. The Texas district court that first considered his claim said he has intellectual disability — and in ruling for him earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized the powerful evidence showing Moore’s disability.

Earlier this month, The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Texas joined a broad range of prominent entities and individuals with diverse perspectives and views on the death penalty, who filed briefs urging the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant relief for Moore. The Harris County district attorney’s office – which prosecuted Moore and obtained the death sentence against him – has now agreed that, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision and the record in this case, Moore cannot be executed because he has intellectual disability.

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Everybody in the case now agrees that Moore has intellectual disability and he cannot be executed. The prosecutors, defense lawyers, faith leaders and religious organizations, medical and intellectual disability associations, prominent Texans across the spectrum (including conservatives, moderates, and death-penalty supporters), leading lawyers, civil rights groups and many others all agree that there is nothing left to decide — and no real controversy to resolve. All that is left is for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to issue a judgment making it official that, as established by the Supreme Court decision and the record that the Supreme Court reviewed, Moore has intellectual disability and may not be executed.

We hope that the Court of Criminal Appeals issues that judgment promptly. There is no reason to delay the resolution of Moore’s case. Every day of additional time on death row means another day of unnecessary and excruciating pain from solitary confinement. People with intellectual disability who are in prison are often punished for not complying with prison rules they don’t understand or cannot remember; the sensory deprivation and isolation of solitary confinement can be particularly overwhelming. It is, thus, imperative that Moore not only be released from solitary confinement, but also undergo a thorough assessment to evaluate his capacity for general prison life to determine the most appropriate placement for him.

It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals should not wait a moment longer than necessary to issue its judgment. Bobby Moore should be moved from death row immediately. In taking that action now, the Court of Criminal Appeals would be serving justice and ending the needless infliction of harm on Moore.

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