The State of Alabama executed Eddie Powell today despite credible evidence that he was intellectually disabled.
Eddie Powell was sentenced to death in 1995. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute people with intellectual disabiility. Mr. Powell may be the first person executed in Alabama since Atkins where there is credible evidence of intellectual disability but the death row prisoner nonetheless was denied an evidentiary hearing in any court.
Eddie Powell was diagnosed with intellectual disability in the fifth grade and placed in special education classes, where he worked hard but could not keep up with other students, and functioned at only a third-grade level in the seventh grade.
Eddie’s alcoholic father encouraged him to drink from the time he was a small boy, and Eddie became chemically dependent on alcohol and drugs, which – together with severe head injuries that fractured his skull and left him partially blind – further impaired his cognitive development.
Eddie Powell was not permitted to present in any court detailed evidence from teachers, doctors, neighbors, friends and family, or neuropsychological testing showing his adult IQ is in the range of intellectual disability, because an Alabama trial court summarily dismissed his intellectual disability claim without hearing any evidence. No state or federal court gave Mr. Powell a hearing on the merits of his claim.
Mr. Powell’s lawyers presented these facts to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who denied clemency.
That the state and federal courts never afforded Mr. Powell any opportunity to prove that he should be exempt from the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled marks a major setback in enforcing constitutional protections for people whose “disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses,” mean that “they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct.”
Mr. Powell is the fourth person to be executed in Alabama this year.