The voting done, Texas prepares for execution

Death Row
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The Independent US

Even as he awaits the outcome of the US presidential election, George W Bush faced a torrent of international protest yesterday over the scheduled execution of John Paul Penry, a Texas death-row prisoner adjudged by psychiatric experts to have a mental age of six.

Even as he awaits the outcome of the US presidential election, George W Bush faced a torrent of international protest yesterday over the scheduled execution of John Paul Penry, a Texas death-row prisoner adjudged by psychiatric experts to have a mental age of six.

The Vatican and the German government were among those begging Mr Bush, who is still Governor of Texas, to issue a last-minute 30-day reprieve to Mr Penry, a convicted rapist and murderer who was due to be executed at 6pm yesterday (midnight GMT).

Executing the mentally retarded was a violation of international human rights, they argued.

Similar appeals have come from the European Union, the American Bar Association and Amnesty International.

"There is no societal retribution in killing a person with the mind of a 6-year-old who cannot understand why what he did was wrong and who does not even understand the meaning of the word 'execution'," wrote Robert Smith, a New York lawyer, in Mr Penry's formal clemency appeal, which echoed the growing international protests.

The controversy added a surreal touch to the waiting game in Austin, the Texas capital, where Mr Bush has been mostly keeping himself from public view while the legal battle over the Presidential election continues in Florida.

Mr Penry would be the 149th prisoner put to death in the five years since Mr Bush took office, and the 38th this year.

On Wednesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 15-2 against commuting Mr Penry's sentence to life imprisonment, and 16-1 against offering him a 30-day reprieve. Yesterday morning, he still had an appeal outstanding with the US Supreme Court. After that, only Mr Bush could prevent his death by lethal injection.

Mr Penry's lawyers argued that the governor was too preoccupied by the election to make a considered judgement on the case, but aides to Mr Bush said he was fully briefed.

A review of Mr Bush's work schedule conducted recently by The New York Times showed that "fully briefed" has, in previous cases, meant no more than 15 minutes' thought. The governor has issued just two 30-day stays in five years.

It seemed unlikely Mr Bush would soften in this case since he recently vetoed a bill presented by the Texas legislature banning the execution of prisoners with an IQ lower than 70.

Mr Penry was the subject of a landmark 1989 ruling by the Supreme Court that said mental incapacity should be considered a mitigating factor but was not in itself a reason to withhold the death penalty.

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