Federal Appeals Court Bars State of Alabama From Executing Kenneth Thomas Because He Is Intellectually Disabled


On May 27, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a federal district court’s ruling that Alabama death row prisoner Kenneth Thomas is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held it is cruel and unusual to execute people who are intellectually disabled.

The federal appeals court reviewed and detailed the evidence about Kenny Thomas’s intellectual functioning and adaptive deficits, which showed, among other things, that he failed first grade and spent the rest of his school years in special education classes for the “educable mentally retarded.” His special education teacher testified that he could not retain information or carry out straightforward tasks without repeat instructions and close supervision.

After Kenny was removed from his violent, alcoholic father and neglectful mother, he lived with foster parents until he was 18 and then with other adults. He never lived independently, and did not know how to use a money order, pay bills, or even do simple math calculations. He could not carry out many basic household tasks, such as cooking a recipe, preparing a shopping list, using a vacuum cleaner, washing and drying dishes, making a bed, or using a washing machine.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Kenny Thomas meets the definition of intellectual disability and that the Eighth Amendment bars the State of Alabama from executing him.

The decision makes Mr. Thomas the second Alabama death row prisoner in as many years to win, over the State’s opposition, a claim that the Constitution prohibits his execution because of his intellectual disability. Last year, the Eleventh Circuit similarly found that Glenn Holladay was intellectually disabled and thus protected from execution by the Eighth Amendment.