A judge said Wednesday that he will rule in about three weeks on a Virginia death row inmate's claim that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in another case precludes his execution.
Alfredo R. Prieto's lawyer, Miriam Airington, stated she believes the case is the first in the nation to test whether the May 27 ruling in a Florida capital punishment case can be applied retroactively to a narrow category of other inmates awaiting execution. After an hour-long hearing, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson said he wanted to take time to carefully consider the issue.
Prieto was awaiting execution in California for raping and murdering a teenager when a DNA sample connected him to the 1988 slayings of two George Washington University students in Reston. He was also sentenced to death for those.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that a rigid cutoff on IQ test scores cannot be used to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Prieto, whose lawyers claimed he was intellectually disabled during the sentencing phase of his trial, claims he cannot be executed because Virginia's law is nearly identical to the statute at issue in the Florida case. Both establish an IQ score of 70 as the intellectual disability threshold.
Airington said Prieto may be the only inmate -- or certainly one of only a few -- already sentenced to death and potentially affected by the Hall v. Florida ruling.
Alice Armstrong of the Virginia attorney general's office argued that the Hall decision should not be applied retroactively because it only involved procedural rules for enforcing the landmark 2002 ruling that barred the death penalty for mentally disabled inmates.
She also argued that, unlike the Florida defendant, Prieto was allowed to present evidence of "adaptive behavior" along with IQ test scores. Experts for the state and Prieto sharply disagreed at sentencing on whether his management of routine tasks suggested he was mentally disabled.