Supreme Court questions Death Row inmate’s mental claims

April 9, 2009



 JACKSON -- State Supreme Court justices Wednesday questioned Lowndes County murderer Mack Arthur King''s arguments that he''s mentally retarded and shouldn''t be executed for murdering Lela Patterson 29 years ago. 


King appears mentally competent in his conduct, including having law books to study in his prison cell, said Chief Justice William Waller Jr. 


"That would be behavior totally inconsistent of somebody who''s mentally retarded," Waller said during a hearing the Supreme Court held for King''s appeal. 


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it''s unconstitutional to execute people who are mentally retarded. For at least the sixth time since first sentenced to death in 1980, King is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to spare him from the state execution chamber. 


He''s had death sentences reversed two times before by the high court in the past 14 years because of Lowndes County Circuit Court judge''s errors and then resentenced by juries after new trials. 


The high court in 2007 affirmed the most recent death sentence King received for murdering Patterson. The 84-year-old woman was beaten, strangled and drowned at her Lowndes County home when King was committing a burglary, according to court records.  


The state Supreme Court, in its 5-2 decision two years ago, rejected King''s arguments that he''s mentally retarded. 


In Wednesday''s hearing, justices pressed King''s attorney to discuss what new evidence has emerged about the death-row inmate''s psychological condition to make them reverse their 2007 decision. 


His attorney, Glenn Swartzfager, said new psychiatric exams and King''s behavior -- including being "slow" and having to get specific instructions on how to do menial chores in prison -- show he''s retarded. 


"That''s certainly new evidence of his lack of adaptive function," said Swartzfager, who''s director of the state Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel. 


He wants the high court to throw out King''s death sentence and order a new trial-court hearing on whether he''s mentally retarded. 


However, state Assistant Attorney General Jason Davis told the court King is presenting the same evidence about his mental condition the justices have previously decided doesn''t justify having his death sentence overturned. 


"There is no new information," Davis said. 


It''s uncertain when the Supreme Court will issue a decision on King''s appeal, but it''ll probably be this summer. The court handed down its 2007 decision in King''s earlier appeal two months after hearing oral arguments in the case.