NASHVILLE (AP) — Attorneys for a Tennessee death row inmate are asking a federal judge to spare him from facing the death penalty because he is mentally disabled.
Byron Lewis Black was convicted in 1989 of killing his girlfriend, Angela Clay, and her two young daughters, Latoya and Lakeisha, in Nashville. He was given life sentences for the murders of Angela and Latoya Clay, but was sentenced to death for the murder of Lakeisha Clay.
Black’s attorneys have claimed that he is intellectually disabled and that they have struggled to communicate with him during his trial and appeals. But prosecutors point to his scores on IQ tests he took before he turned 18. He did not score less than 70 on the tests, which are considered a factor in determining whether a person has limited mental abilities.
But in 2011, the U.S. Court of Criminal Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision to remand the case back to federal court in Nashville. The judges said a state appeals court did not adequately consider Black’s claims based in part on a recent Tennessee Supreme Court opinion. U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday afternoon.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in 2011 in another death row penalty case that Tennessee law does not require that raw scores on IQ tests be accepted at their face value. The ruling also said that the courts may consider competent expert testimony showing that a test score does not accurately reflect a person’s functional IQ or that the raw IQ score is artificially inflated or deflated.
Black’s attorneys argued in court briefs that the judge should also consider testimony from experts who have evaluated Black and say that he is mentally disabled and that he also suffers from brain damage and mental illness, which affect his ability to understand what is going on around him and participate in his case.
Attorneys for the Tennessee Attorney General’s office said in court briefs that state law requires intellectual disability must be shown early in the defendant’s life, typically before age 18. They argued that the experts have not proven Black was mentally disabled as a child.
No execution date has been set for Black.