Outrage at Texan plans to execute man with mental age of six

On Death Row
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The Independent US

Here's a ghoulish footnote to the unending US presidential election: the longer George W Bush has to wait to find out if he will be swapping the Texas governor's mansion for the White House, the more prisoners on Death Row he gets to execute.

Here's a ghoulish footnote to the unending US presidential election: the longer George W Bush has to wait to find out if he will be swapping the Texas governor's mansion for the White House, the more prisoners on Death Row he gets to execute.

After an election-season lull in executions in Texas - possibly designed to avoid the Republican candidate any further unnecessary embarrassment - they have resumed in earnest. The good news from Mr Bush's point of view is that the presidential arm-wrestling match has consumed the media so entirely that almost nobody is paying attention. The bad news is that plenty of controversy still attends the latest cases.

The first post-electoral execution, last Thursday, was of Miguel Flores, a 32-year-old convicted rapist and murderer whose Mexican nationality raised questions about possible violations of international treaties on criminal justice.

This week, three more cases are coming up. Tomorrow, a 31-year-old African-American called Stacey Lawton faces death by lethal injection for killing a man during a burglary. On Wednesday it will be the turn of another black man, Tony Chambers, convicted of abducting and murdering an 11-year-old girl.

Then, on Thursday, comes the most controversial case of all, that of a convicted rapist who is so retarded that he has a mental age of six.

The European Union has lodged an "urgent humanitarian appeal" with Governor Bush, saying the execution of Johnny Penry would "degrade the dignity and worth of the human person" because of his IQ of just 56. The 44-year-old cannot read or write, or maintain attention even on the comic books that he likes to leaf through.

Mr Penry's appalling childhood included being beaten over the head with a belt and forced to drink his own urine out of the lavatory. At the time of his crime, he was still wetting his bed regularly. According to an interview he gave to The New York Times this weekend, he still believes in Santa Claus and does not seem to be fully aware of what is about to happen to him.

The American Bar Association has protested that executing mentally retarded prisoners is "unacceptable in a civilised world".

Mr Bush would no doubt be only too happy to offload these problems on to his lieutenant-governor, Rick Perry, who would take over if he became president-elect. Another reason - if he needed one - for him to keep his attention focused squarely on Florida.

* Former US President George Bush and former General Norman Schwarzkopf were relaxing on a Spanish estate yesterday, strolling and joining in a red partridge hunt.

A smiling Mr Bush refused to speak to reporters about the US Presidential race as he relaxed at the private Pinos Altos estate near the Spanish city of Ciudad Real. Mr Bush was due to meetKing Juan Carlos and the Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, tomorrow. He will also inaugurate a cancer clinic in Madrid.

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