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For the second time, U.S. Supreme Court reverses death sentence decision for Texas inmate Bobby Moore

BY Jolie McCullough

The U.S. Supreme Court again struck down a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision that declared a death row inmate did not have an intellectual disability.

The high court ruled on Tuesday that Bobby Moore has shown he is intellectually disabled and, for the second time in the case, knocked down an earlier Texas ruling that claimed he wasn’t.

Moore’s case highlights the complexities surrounding intellectual disability and the death penalty. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that those with intellectual disabilities can’t be executed, and after reviewing Moore’s case in 2016, tossed out the way the Texas court determines the disability. The Texas court previously relied on decades-old medical standards and a controversial set of factors created by judges to make the determination, including how well the inmate could lie.

Following that ruling, the prosecutor sided with Moore and said that he is intellectually disabled, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals still disagreed, claiming last June that he was eligible for execution under current medical standards as well. Now, the high court has stepped in again, and this time, six of the nine justices made clear that Moore has shown he is disabled and therefore ineligible for execution.

Moore, 59, was sentenced to death more than 38 years ago after he fatally shot a 73-year-old clerk during a Houston robbery in 1980. In 2014, a Texas court determined under current medical standards that Moore was intellectually disabled — with evidence including low IQ scores and his inability to tell time or days of the week as a teenager.

But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled that decision, saying the lower court failed to use its test in making the determination. The Supreme Court invalidated that method upon review.

“By rejecting the habeas court’s application of medical guidance and clinging to the standard it laid out … the CCA failed adequately to inform itself of the ‘medical community’s diagnostic framework’,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the 5-3 opinion in 2017.

In an unusual step, the prosecutor, Democratic Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, filed a brief to the Texas court after that ruling agreeing with Moore — stating that he was intellectually disabled and should not be executed. In a surprise June opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to use current medical standards as a method to determine if a death row inmate had an intellectual disability, but said that Moore still did not qualify.

Both Moore and Ogg took the matter up with the justices in Washington, D.C. — marking a rare occurrence of the state and inmate arguing for the same thing. They argued that the Texas court claimed to take up medical standards but largely did the same thing that was slammed by the Supreme Court earlier. They asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Texas court’s decision without holding a hearing, or, if the justices didn’t agree to that, at least grant a second review with oral arguments. The justices took the more drastic step.

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