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Save a Mentally Disabled Man From His September Execution

A fifty year old mentally challenged man sits on death row at Holman prison in Alabama. He awaits his execution, set for September 2 of this year. As the clock quickly ticks away what could be his final days, a rush is on to save him.

 There's no one questioning his guilt--he was found guilty of shooting an ex girlfriend. Despite the horrendous nature of his offense, however, people are pleading with the governor to grant him clemency. The reason? His defense attorney at trial never told jurors of his mental incompetency, a fact that would have likely swayed at least one juror--all that was needed to save him from death.

The case of Holly Wood serves as a grave example of the broken indigent defense system in this country. His court appointed attorneys were given a maximum $1,000 for their defense in his capital murder case, hardly incentive for doing a thorough job. Attorney Kenneth B. Trotter hadn't been practicing law a full year when he argued for leniency at Wood's sentencing. The result: a recommendation of death by a vote of 10 to 2, the absolute minimum required in Alabama for the death penalty. Had Trotter divulged Wood's mental status at the sentencing hearing, there's a high probability at least one of those jurors would have voted against the execution.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing those deemed to be "mentally retarded" violated the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. That specific case, Atkins v. Virginia, involved a man with an IQ of 59. They stated that the execution of such adults served no reasonable purpose. The ruling recognized that although the mentally retarded may know the difference between right and wrong, they were often unable to learn from past mistakes, understand complex interpersonal relationships, and use logical reasoning as the rest of the population. 

Subsequently, many states enacted procedures safeguarding against the execution of those with similar mental statuses. Some had even banned such executions prior to the 2002 ruling. However, Alabama has enacted no such procedures nor have they attempted to define what would be considered "mentally retarded" and therefore covered under the Atkins case. 

Holly Wood has an IQ of 64. The state of Alabama recognizes an IQ score of 70 as being "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning." A competency report which was not used during the sentencing phase stated that he read at a third grade level and was in the "borderline range of intellectual functioning." None of this would have negated Wood's guilt but it could have and should have been used at sentencing to argue for leniency. 

Wood's case made it all the way to the Supreme Court where the justices upheld his conviction and sentence in a vote of 7 to 2. Their position was that the defense attorneys made a strategic decision, not an oversight, in the choice to not include information about his mental competency. Interestingly, however, they did not address the matter of his competency in relation to the Atkins v. Virginia case. Now, his only hope at relief lies in clemency granted by Governor Bob Riley.

Join other activists here at in requesting Governor Riley's mercy. The Governor is the only person who can now save Holly Wood's life. All other avenues have been exhausted and a little more than one month stands between his life and the scheduled date of his death. One month isn't enough time for Alabama lawmakers to enact protective measures to prevent this from happening again. But it is enough time to save one man's life. 

*Update* 2010-08-01

Alabama has postponed Mr. Wood's execution date one week, moving it from September 2 to September 9. In a truly bizarre move, the postponement occurred to allow the warden of the prison to attend training. If anything this move shows just how nonchalant the department is about taking a mentally retarded man's life. However, despite the reasoning, it gives us additional time to get the word out about Mr. Wood. 

I thank you all for signing the petition and encourage you to promote it through email, word of mouth, and social networking. Let's bring more attention to this case in hopes of ultimately stopping the potentially unconstitutional execution of this man.


Photo Credit: Andres Rueda

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    Elizabeth Renter started this petition with a single signature, and now has 381 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.