The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals intervened just hours before the scheduled execution of Robert Campbell on Tuesday, granting Campbell's legal team more time to build its claim that the inmate is ineligible for capital punishment under the Supreme Court's Atkins decision because of an intellectual disability. The unanimous opinion in favor of a stay has temporarily delayed the first scheduled execution in the country since Oklahoma's botched double execution last month.
At issue is a decades-long delay by prosecutors in disclosing evidence of Campbell's intellectual disability. As Andrew Cohen wrote in The Week, prosecutors had strong evidence for two decades of Campbell's intellectual disability — school records testing his IQ at 68, along with an intellectual test conducted upon Campbell's incarceration. But they didn't hand those records over to Campbell's legal team, despite requests to provide any and all materials pertaining to Campbell's intellectual capacity, until March of this year. Earlier, Campbell's lawyers asked the state court for more time to examine the new evidence, but they were denied.
Here's how the Fifth Circuit responded to the facts at hand in their Tuesday decision, granting Campbell the right to file a federal habeas corpus petition with his claim that Supreme Court precedent and the Eighth Amendment make him ineligible for an execution, along with a stay pending the resolution of that claim:
It is regrettable that we are now reviewing evidence of intellectual disability at the eleventh hour before Campbell’s scheduled execution. However, from the record before us, it appears that we cannot fault Campbell or his attorneys, present or past, for the delay. According to Campbell, in the period immediately after Atkins was decided, his attorney diligently searched for evidence of intellectual disability. And, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice failed to turn over the results of the intelligence test they had administered on Campbell upon the attorney’s request for “any and all intellectual functioning tests,” the State gave the attorney incorrect and incomplete information. Thus, although the delay is regrettable, we do not see it as militating against a stay of execution in this case.
To put this in perspective, the Fifth Circuit leans very conservative in its decisions across the board, and does not routinely intervene in capital punishment cases on behalf of the inmate. The full decision is below: