Penry v. Lynaugh,
492 U.S. 302 (1989), sanctioned the
death penalty for mentally retarded offenders because the Court
determined executing the mentally retarded was not "cruel and unusual
punishment" under the Eighth Amendment.
However, because Texas law did not
allow the jury to give adequate consideration as a mitigating factor to
Penry's mental retardation at the sentencing phase of the trial, the
Court remanded the case for further proceedings. Eventually, Penry was
retried for capital murder, again sentenced to death, and again the
Supreme Court ruled, in Penry v. Johnson,
532 U.S. 782 (2001), that the jury was
not able to adequately consider Penry's mental retardation as a
mitigating factor at the sentencing phase of the trial.
Ultimately, Penry was spared the death
penalty because of the Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins v. Virginia,
536 U.S. 304 (2002), which, while not
directly overruling the holding in Penry, did give considerable
negative treatment to Penry on the basis that the Eighth Amendment
allowed execution of the mentally retarded.
On the morning of October 25, 1979, Pamela Carpenter
was brutally raped, beaten, and stabbed with a pair of scissors in her
home in Livingston, Texas. She died a few hours later in the course of
emergency treatment. Before she died, she described her assailant. Her
description led two local sheriff's deputies to suspect Penry, who had
recently been released on parole after conviction on another rape charge.
Penry subsequently gave two statements confessing to the crime and was
charged with capital murder.
As the Penry v. Lynaugh case was in 1989, one year
later Penry went against another charge of rape and murder known as
Penry v. Johnson, 1990.
The court testified
At a competency hearing after a competency evaluation
held before trial, a clinical psychologist, Dr. Jerome Brown, testified
that Penry was [mentally retarded] link title.
As a child, Penry was diagnosed as having organic
brain damage, which was probably caused by trauma to the brain at birth.
App. 34-35. Penry was tested over the years as having an IQ between 50
and 63, which indicates [*308] mild to moderate retardation. 1 Id., at
36-38, 55. Dr. Brown's own testing before the trial indicated that Penry
had an IQ of 54.
Dr. Brown's evaluation also revealed that Penry, who
was 22 years old at the time of the crime, had the mental age of a 6
1/2-year-old, which means that "he has the ability to learn and the
learning or the knowledge of the average 6 1/2 year old kid." Id., at
41. Penry's social maturity, or ability to function in the world, was
that of a 9- or 10-year-old. Dr. Brown testified that "there's a point
at which anyone with [Penry's] IQ is always incompetent, but, you know,
this man is more in the borderline range." Id., at 47.
The jury found Penry competent to stand trial. Id.,
at 20-24. The guilt-innocence phase of the trial began on March 24,
1980. The trial court determined that Penry's confessions were voluntary,
and they were introduced into evidence. At trial, Penry raised an
insanity defense and presented the testimony of a psychiatrist, Dr. Jose
Garcia. Dr. Garcia testified that Penry suffered from organic brain
damage and moderate retardation, which resulted in poor impulse control
and an inability to learn from experience. Id., at 18, 19, 87-90.
Dr. Garcia indicated that Penry's brain damage was
probably caused at birth, id., at 106, but may have been caused by
beatings and multiple injuries to the [*309] brain at an early age. Id.,
at 18, 90. In Dr. Garcia's judgment, Penry was suffering from an organic
brain disorder [***272] at the time of the offense which made it
impossible for him to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to
conform his conduct to the law. Id., at 86-87.
Penry's mother testified at trial that Penry was
unable to learn in school and never finished the first grade. Penry's
sister testified that their mother had frequently beaten him over the
head with a belt when he was a child. Penry was also routinely locked in
his room without access to a toilet for long periods of time. Id., at
124, 126, 127. As a youngster, Penry was in and out of a number of state
schools and hospitals, [**2942] until his father removed him from state
schools altogether when he was 12. Id., at 120. Penry's aunt
subsequently struggled for over a year to teach Penry how to print his
name. Id., at 133.
The State introduced the testimony of two
psychiatrists to rebut the testimony of Dr. Garcia. Dr. Kenneth
Vogtsberger testified that although Penry was a person of limited mental
ability, he was not suffering from any mental illness or defect at the
time of the crime, and that he knew the difference between right and
wrong and had the potential to honor the law. Id., at 144-145.
In his view, Penry had characteristics consistent
with an antisocial personality, including an inability to learn from
experience and a tendency to be impulsive and to violate society's norms.
Id., at 149-150. He testified further that Penry's low IQ scores
underestimated his alertness and understanding of what went on around
him. Id., at 146.
Dr. Felix Peebles also testified for the State that
Penry was legally sane at the time of the offense and had a "full-blown
anti-social personality." Id., at 171. In addition, Dr. Peebles
testified that he personally diagnosed Penry as being mentally retarded
in 1973 and again in 1977, and that Penry "had a very bad life generally,
bringing up." Id., at 168-169. In Dr. Peebles' view, Penry "had been
socially and [*310] emotionally deprived and he had not learned to read
and write adequately." Id., at 169.
Although they disagreed with the defense psychiatrist
over the extent and cause of Penry's mental limitations, both
psychiatrists for the State acknowledged that Penry was a person of
extremely limited mental ability, and that he seemed unable to learn
from his mistakes. Id., at 149, 172-173.