Of Mice, Men & the Mentally Retarded: Thomas Steinbeck, Novelist's Son, Weighs in on Texas's Planned Execution of Marvin Wilson (UPDATED)
It's taken him awhile -- he's pissed over a 2004 opinion issued by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- but he comes by his outrage honestly.
In its opinion upholding the execution of Beaumont's Marvin Wilson, 54, the TCCA cited the character of Lennie from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The court wrote:
Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt. But, does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?
Thomas Steinbeck only recently was made aware of the opinion, and issued a public statement of his own in the face of today's planned execution.
I am deeply troubled by today's scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson ... I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, ie., Lennie Small from 'Of Mice and Men,' as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer ... and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability.
Wilson has been on death row for almost 20 years for the murder of a police drug informant. He has two previous robbery convictions.
His supporters argue that he fits the definition of mentally disabled, and the U.S. Supreme Court has prevented the execution of anyone who falls under that category.
Updated: The TCCA was unmoved.
Update II: Wilson's lawyer Lee Kovarsky reacts:
"We are gravely disappointed and profoundly saddened that the United States Supreme Court has refused to intervene to prevent tonight's scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, who has an I.Q. of 61, placing him below the first percentile of human intelligence. Ten years ago, this Court categorically barred states from executing people with mental retardation. Yet, tonight Texas will end the life of a man who was diagnosed with mental retardation by a court-appointed, board certified specialist.
"It is outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines, called the Briseño factors, to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution. The Briseño factors are not scientific tools, they are the decayed remainder of an uninformed stereotype that has been widely discredited by the nation's leading groups on intellectual disability, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. That neither the courts nor state officials have stopped this execution is not only a shocking failure of a once-promising constitutional commitment, it is also a reminder that, as a society, we haven't come quite that far in understanding how so many of those around us live with intellectual disabilities."