TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Supreme Court to debate mental disability in Fla. death penalty case

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By McClatchy Newspapers
Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Freddie Lee Hall has survived Florida's death row for decades since he was convicted and sentenced for a 1978 murder.

Now the Supreme Court will use his case to judge the state's strict standard for determining when a convicted criminal's mental disability is severe enough to rule out the death penalty.

On Monday, the high court announced that it will hear Hall's challenge to Florida's rule that a convicted criminal must have a tested IQ of 69 or lower in order to be deemed intellectually disabled. This determination is a matter of life or death, as the Supreme Court has ruled previously that the intellectually disabled — formerly referred to as the mentally retarded — cannot face the death penalty.

“I'm very pleased they will be taking the case up,” said Eric Pinkard, Hall's Tampa-based appellate attorney. “The Florida definition leads to the possibility that the mentally retarded will be executed.”

Whitney Ray, the press secretary to Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi, said in a statement that Florida courts had found that Hall “is not intellectually disabled. We will urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Hall's sentence.”

Pinkard argues that Florida's explicit definition, which allows the execution of someone with a tested IQ of 70 or above, fails to account for standard measurement error. The Supreme Court itself, in the 2002 decision protecting the intellectually disabled from execution, declared that an IQ between 70 and 75 is typically considered the cutoff score.

The sixteenth of 17 children, Hall was “tortured by his mother and abused by his neighbors,” according to a 1993 dissenting opinion in the Florida Supreme Court. He had an IQ of 60 and was “functionally illiterate and has the short-term memory of a first-grader,” the dissenting opinion observed. In later years, though, Hall's IQ was variously measured at 71 and 73.

Hall and Mack Ruffin Jr. were charged in the Feb. 21, 1978, murders of Karol Lea Hurst, a 21-year-old housewife who was seven months pregnant, and Hernando County Deputy Sheriff Lonnie Coburn. According to a court summary, Hall and Ruffin collaborated in kidnapping Hurst in her own car from a Pantry Pride supermarket parking lot in Leesburg, Fla. They drove to a wooded area, where, Hall told investigators, Ruffin beat, sexually assaulted and shot Hurst.

Shortly thereafter, prosecutors say, Coburn confronted the men and was killed with his own gun.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. Boy Scouts of America votes to end controversial ban on openly gay leaders
  2. Oklahoma court: Ten Commandments monument at Capitol must go
  3. Police try to see if man killed by escort was linked to crimes against women
  4. ‘Aggressive’ search under way for 2 Florida teens lost on fishing trip
  5. Trump goes on attack against Walker
  6. National Security Agency to stop looking at old telephone records
  7. House Benghazi panel says State Department to hand over documents Tuesday
  8. Women more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, studies find
  9. Outside attorneys to help investigate Bland death in Texas jail
  10. Republicans seek firing of IRS chief in feud over missing emails
  11. El Niño helps, harms economies