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Johnny Paul PENRY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 25, 1979
Date of birth: May 5, 1956
Victim profile: Pamela Moseley Carpenter, 22 (sister of American football star Mark Moseley)
Method of murder: Stabbing with a pair of scissors
Location: Polk County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 9, 1980. Commuted to life in prison on February 15, 2008

Penry v. Lynaugh (No. 87-6177)
832 F. 2d 915, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

cd in part
cd in part
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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.



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