Atkins v. Virginia

536 U.S. 304 (2002)


D was convicted of abduction, armed robbery, and capital murder, and sentenced to death. D and William Jones, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, abducted Eric Nesbitt, robbed him of the money on his person, drove him to an automated teller machine in his pickup truck where cameras recorded their withdrawal of additional cash, then took him to an isolated location where he was shot eight times and killed. Each of the defendants stated that the other had actually shot and killed Nesbitt; Jones' testimony was both more coherent and credible than D's. At the penalty phase of the trial, P introduced victim impact evidence and proved two aggravating circumstances: future dangerousness and 'vileness of the offense.' To prove future dangerousness, the State relied on D's prior felony convictions as well as the testimony of four victims of earlier robberies and assaults. To prove the second aggravator, the prosecution relied upon the trial record, including pictures of the deceased's body and the autopsy report. D called a forensic psychologist who had evaluated D before trial and concluded that he was 'mildly mentally retarded.' D had a full-scale IQ of 59.5 D was sentenced to death, but the Virginia Supreme Court ordered a second sentencing hearing because the trial court had used a misleading verdict form. Dr. Nelson again testified. The State presented an expert rebuttal witness, Dr. Stanton who expressed the opinion that D was not mentally retarded, but rather was of 'average intelligence, at least,' and diagnosable as having antisocial personality disorder. D was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed. D not argue before the Virginia Supreme Court that his sentence was disproportionate to penalties imposed for similar crimes in Virginia, but he did contend 'that he is mentally retarded and thus cannot be sentenced to death.' The Supreme Court granted certiorari to revisit the Penry case.