Judge rejects death row inmate’s request to be declared intellectually disabled

A Tennessee judge has denied a petition by a death row inmate who hoped to avoid execution by being designated as intellectually disabled.

The Associated Press reports that Senior Judge Walter Kurtz has confirmed that Byron Black, 65, was found not to be intellectually disabled by federal courts and therefore not eligible for reconsideration.

The decision came despite Black’s attorneys and the Nashville District Attorney saying the man is intellectually disabled and should be spared the death penalty.

Black is due to be executed on August 18 for the murder of his girlfriend and two young daughters in 1988. He was found guilty in a Nashville court of murdering his girlfriend, Angela Clay, 29, and her daughters Latoya, 9, and Lakesha, 6. .

Prosecutors claimed he flew into a jealous rage and shot the three at their home. At the time of the murders, Black was on release for shooting and wounding Ms Clay’s ex-husband.

His lawyers argue that a 2021 law prohibits Tennessee from retroactively executing people with mental disabilities. They argued that while Black had previously been declared not intellectually disabled, he was under an outdated 2004 standard, which was based on the definition of “mentally retarded”.

Mr. Kurtz ultimately rejected that argument, ruling that death row inmates who were previously found not to be intellectually disabled, regardless of the delay, are not eligible for review.

“This Court fails to see how the federal courts’ resolution of the petitioner’s developmental disability claim can be considered anything other than a determination on the merits under the legal and medical principles that are embodied in the most recent version. of (Tennessee law),” Mr. Kurtz wrote.

“In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that Mr. Black has had a full and fair prior judgment on the merits of his developmental disability claim.”

District Attorney Glenn Funk, Nashville’s lead prosecutor, said earlier this month he agreed with Black’s defense team that he was intellectually disabled and should be life sentence.

Mr Funk referred to a finding recently amended by Susan Redmond Vaught, a psychologist, who was one of the state’s experts in Black’s decision in 2004. She now believes Black meets all the criteria for the new law for being intellectually disabled.

“Today’s order says that even though the law has changed, the doors of the courthouse are closed to Byron Black,” said Kelley Henry, Black’s attorney. “We will appeal this decision, which we believe misinterprets Tennessee and federal law.”

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