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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

What should spare a killer from death?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Barbara Jo Wood worked at the South County Mall in St. Louis. If you've shopped the mall - and many of us have - you may have one day come across Barbara Jo. She was 44 years old in 1994 when she was abducted from the mall's parking lot, shot and eventually thrown from a bridge into the Mississippi River. Her body was found eight months later.

Wood's killer is scheduled to be executed Wednesday. His lawyer on Friday filed a clemency petition with Gov. Matt Blunt. Blunt has yet to act on the request.

Stanley Hall, 37, does not deny he killed Barbara Jo Wood. He wanted her car to use in a drive-by shooting he had planned. The murderer never had any real plan for his victim. He just needed the car for yet another crime.

Hall's attorney now has uncovered an IQ test from when Hall was 7 years old. His IQ at the time was 57. That falls well into the range of mental retardation. Hall would later be tested and his scores would fall into the 70-75 range, borderline retarded.

But Hall knew right from wrong. He has said so. He was sufficiently intelligent to plan the car heist and to plan the drive-by.

Maybe what we need is a new standard for measuring a criminal's ability to reason right from wrong. Standard IQ tests prove our problem-solving abilities. But perhaps a moral IQ test is needed.

I don't accept the argument that Hall was sufficiently retarded that he should be spared the death penalty. His reasoning powers were certainly criminal in nature. But he had sufficient reasoning to plan a crime, to understand that the murder was wrong and to, therefore, try to conceal that crime. So just because he tested low on an intelligence test, does that make him automatically ineligible for the death penalty? I would think not.

In case after case, defense attorneys try to eliminate the death penalty using the "mental retardation" defense. They point to a problem childhood, an abusive home environment or low intellectual skills. But those arguments should be ignored and the actions of the defendant should be examined more closely.

If an individual cannot distinguish right from wrong, then label them as mentally retarded and provide institutional support, medication or whatever means is available to make life easier. But just because someone has a low test score does not mean he lacks the ability to reason and to recognize a crime. In those cases, the arguments should be ignored and justice should be served.

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