Bobby Tarver’s Death Sentence Changed to Life


On December 7, 2012, a Mobile County, Alabama, trial judge officially resentenced Bobby Tarver to life imprisonment without parole following a federal court ruling that he cannot be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

Bobby Tarver was 21 years old when he was arrested and charged with capital murder in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct.

At his second trial, the jury rejected the death penalty and handed down a life verdict, but the elected trial judge overruled the jury’s decision and sentenced Mr. Tarver to death. He wrote in his sentencing order that the evidence showed Mr. Tarver was “moderately [intellectually disabled].”

In 2002, the Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia held that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits executing persons with intellectual disability.

Despite the trial court’s finding that Mr. Tarver is intellectually disabled, and even though they agreed that the records from Mr. Tarver’s first and second trials contain “substantial evidence indicating that Tarver is [intellectually disabled],” the state courts refused to vacate Mr. Tarver’s death sentence.

On September 24, 2012, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama ruled that Bobby Tarver is intellectually disabled. Its decision expressed concern about the state court’s “disregard for a substantial amount of evidence” showing that Mr. Tarver is intellectually disabled.

Mr. Tarver will now leave death row after 30 years under a death sentence.