Is Paul Goodwin mentally retarded or of borderline intelligence?
The question is of utmost importance as the clock ticks toward Goodwin’s scheduled execution on Wednesday. He was sentenced to death in 1999 for the sexual assault and murder of his neighbor, 63-year-old Joan Crotts, in north St. Louis County.
Two years later, then-Gov. Bob Holden signed legislation prohibiting the execution of inmates who are diagnosed as mentally retarded, or intellectually disabled, to use the preferred term. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional a year later when deciding the Atkins v. Virginia case.
Denis Keyes, an expert in intellectual disabilities whose work was cited in the Atkins decision, evaluated Goodwin in 2001 and again last month. “The one absolute certainty ... over the 12 years I have been involved with this case is that Paul Terrence Goodwin is now, and probably always has been, mentally retarded,” he wrote in a report for Goodwin’s clemency lawyers.
Goodwin spent much of his schooling in special education classes. As an adult, he was unable to handle his finances, work out transportation arrangements or take care of personal hygiene.
But the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006 sided with other experts who had testified that Goodwin was of borderline intelligence but not mentally retarded.
There is a fine line between those diagnoses and a wide margin for error. The risk of being wrong is one more reason for states to get out of the business of executing prisoners.
The nation has reached a consensus that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional and inhumane. Gov. Jay Nixon should not take the chance of doing so. He should exercise his power to call off Goodwin’s execution.