The Execution of Marvin Wilson

  1. I’ve created a Storify to pull together all the info about Marvin Wilson, who is set to be executed tonight in Texas. You can view the original here.
    This is a developing story, and more information will be added as it becomes available. Check back for updates.
  2. The Crime:

  3. In 1992, Marvin Wilson was convicted of murdering 21-year-old Jerry Robert Williams, who was a police informant, following a physical confrontation. Several days prior to the confrontation, police had seized 24 grams of cocaine from Wilson’s apartment and arrested him, on a tip from the victim. Wilson accused Williams of snitching on him. According to court documents, “eyewitnesses saw two men—Mr. Wilson and his accomplice, Andrew Lewis—attack Mr. Williams at Mike’s Grocery store in Beaumont, Texas.”
  4. Wilson abducted and shot 21-year-old Jerry Robert Williams following a physical confrontation between the two in the 1500 block of Verone in Beaumont. At the time of the murder, Wilson had two previous convictions for robbery
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 02:43:44
  5. Eyewitnesses testified that they saw Wilson and Lewis force Williams into a car and drive off in the direction of an oil refinery. According to court documents, “The eyewitness testimony as to the primary assailant was inconsistent.” The next morning around 7 a.m., Williams was found dead with bullet holes in his neck and head. There was no forensic evidence collected that would establish a shooter.

  6. Both men were tried for murder. However, Lewis was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, while Wilson received the death sentence. Wilson’s death sentence was based on testimony from Lewis’s wife naming Wilson as the triggerman. According to pages 4-6 of Wilson’s attorneys’ petition to the Court (which you can access in full below),

  7. “The evidence that Mr. Wilson was the principal perpetrator came from testimony of Terry Lewis, the wife of Mr. Wilson’s accomplice. Ms. Lewis testified that, when she became concerned that her husband pulled the trigger, Mr. Wilson calmed her by assuring her that Mr. Lewis was not the primary assailant. In short, Mr. Wilson received his sentence under precisely the circumstances that make the capital punishment of offenders with MR problematic: he was one of multiple perpetrators, the eyewitness identification of the primary assailant shifted over time, the more-sophisticated accomplice fingered Mr. Wilson as the leader, and evidence of Mr. Wilson’s “confession” came from the accomplice’s wife.”
  8. The Issue:

  9. Despite concerns about whether Wilson was in fact the primary shooter or present when the murder took place, the main point many  with his case is that Wilson is in fact, legally mentally retarded.
  10. At 54, Marvin Wilson can’t use a telephone book. He reads and writes on a first- or second-grade level. Those who know the Southeast Texas man say he can’t match socks, he doesn’t understand what a bank account is for, he’s been known to fasten his belt to the point of nearly cutting off his circulation. The day his son was born, one sister recalled, he reverted to the familiar habit of sucking his thumb.
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 00:52:09
  11. Wilson quit school in the 10th grade after years of failing grades in special education classes and according to family members, struggled with basic tasks such as tying his shoes. His younger sister, Kim Armstrong, reported that at the birth of his son, Marvin reverted to sucking his thumb.

    “I couldn’t believe it when I saw him still sucking his thumb when his son was born,” Armstrong said in a 2003 affidavit. “Marvin was in his twenties.”

  12. Clinical tests and other factors led a neuropsychologist to diagnose Wilson with “mild mental retardation.” Wilson has an IQ of 61, which is below the benchmark of 70 that is the cutoff for being too mentally impaired to execute.
  13. In a 2002 court decision called Atkins, the U.S. Supreme Court exempted all mentally ill offenders from execution. Part of their reasoning was that mentally disabled defendants are less culpable for their crimes, due to diminished impulse control, etc. They also noted that mentally ill offenders are less capable of aiding in their own defense.
  14. By the Atkins ruling, the state of Texas should be unable to execute Marvin Wilson. However, the Supreme Court left it up to the states to implement their own policies and procedures for upholding the ban. Most states have passed legislation defining intellectual disabilities based on the standards Atkins lays out, Texas has not.
  15. Texas instead has a set of criteria, the “Briseno factors,” that base the definition of mental retardation on a variety of unreliable factors. The Nation’s Liliana Segura reports:
    “Named after another Texas death row case, these seven non-clinical measures are meant to show whether a given defendant displays a “level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.” As an example, the Briseño court cited the fictitious character of Lennie Small, the mentally impaired migrant worker from John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men.
  16. “These measures are rooted in ignorance: notions that intellectually disabled people do not know right from wrong, cannot lie in their own self-interest, are incapable of leadership and so on. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has described them [the Briseño factors] as “based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.” “
  17. The Last Chance:

  18. Wilson’s prior appeals have all been denied, and his last chance lies with the U.S. Supreme Court, who has the ability to step in today and grant a stay to consider his case along with another similar one that is pending.
  19. The Media Coverage and Responses:

  20. There has been a large amount of coverage and discussion of Wilson’s execution in the weeks leading up to it, with activists, journalists and citizens joining in asking for a stay, in light of Wilson’s diminished mental capacity.
  21. Ignoring Supreme Court Ruling, Texas Prepares to Execute Mentally Retarded Prisoner
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 07:47:04
  22. NickBaumann
    RT @timothypmurphy: Marvin Wilson sucked his thumb as an adult, reads at a 2nd-grade level, and has an IQ of 61. He could be executed:
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 08:58:35
  23. terriferic
    Texas Bases Execution Decisions on John Steinbeck Novel:Marvin Wilson sucked his thumb into his adulthood, re…
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 08:55:35
  24. amnesty
    Tomorrow #Texas plans to execute Marvin Wilson, a man with an IQ of 61: #StopWilsonExecution
    Mon, Aug 06 2012 13:05:03
  25. TexDefender
    @ChronFalkenberg: We need nation’s highest court to save us from ourselves, to remind us of our humanity #MarvinWilson
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 08:35:30
  26. The issues surrounding the Wilson case have lead it to receive far more media attention than most executions receive, and a large amount of media organizations are covering both the case and the execution.
  27. heathernolan
    I interviewed Marvin Wilson on death row last month. He said:”I just never felt like I was going to be executed.”
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 08:46:17
  28. Craig Olmstead
    In Huntsville and did story on Marvin Lee Wilson is set to be executed tonight in Huntsville, TX. His IQ has been the focus on of one appeal to his planned execution.
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 07:16:38
  29. CBSAndrew
    Here is link to petition now on file with US Supreme Court seeking stay of Marvin Wilson’s execution. IQ of 61.
    Tue, Aug 07 2012 07:34:45
  30. The Senator’s Call:

  31. Texas senator Rodney Ellis also chimed in, releasing a press release in which “I respectfully ask that the Court of Criminal Appeals grant a stay of execution for Mr. Marvin Wilson.”
  32. Ellis went on to say “Unfortunately, Texas continues to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s categorical ban on the execution of offenders with mental retardation by developing its own set of determining factors for who will be exempt from execution. Not only are these Briseño factors not accepted by the scientific or medical community, they are not effective in excluding all offenders with mental retardation in accordance with Atkins. The Briseño factors have no basis in science, clearly fail under the law, and furthermore, violate any basic standard of justice and morality.”

    “We do not execute children in the state of Texas, therefore we should not execute those who have the mental capacity of a child. The ultimate penalty should be reserved for those that can clearly comprehend why they are going to die.”

  33. The Steinbeck Statement:

  34. Following the coverage of Wilson’s case and Texas’s Briseño factors, author John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas Steinbeck, released a statement saying his father would be “deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”
  35. His full statement reads:
    “On behalf of the family of John Steinbeck, I am deeply troubled by today’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an I.Q. of 61. Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, 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, i.e, 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 who won the Nobel prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”
  36. The Execution:

  37. If a stay is not granted, Wilson is set to be executed at 6 p.m. CT at the Polunsky death row unit in Huntsville, Texas.
  38. He will be served the same meal as the other inmates in the unit, since Texas revoked the right to a last meal request after Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered a huge last meal last September and then didn’t touch any of it. After meeting with his spiritual adviser and being asked if he has a last statement, he will be injected with a 3-drug pentobarbital cocktail, stopping his heart.
  39. This is a developing story, and more information will be added as it becomes available. Check back for updates.
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2 thoughts on “The Execution of Marvin Wilson

  1. Dudley Sharp says:

    All indications in Wilson’s life are that he is not mentally retarded, as the tests confirm.

    “The following evidence was presented in two hearings during the state habeas proceedings.”

    “Wilson presented school and prison training records, including standardized testing results. Five I.Q. scores are reflected in those reports. The first I.Q. test, the Lorge-Thorndike, was administered by Wilson’s school when he was approximately 13 years old. Wilson’s full-scale score on this test was 73. At age 29, Wilson was given an I.Q. test by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and scored 75. In April 2006, when Wilson was 46 and during the post-conviction proceedings, Wilson scored 61 on the WAIS III I.Q.”

    “Case: 09-70022 Document: 00511667534 Page: 10 Date Filed: 11/16/2011 test. On further testing by the defense, Wilson scored 75 on the Raven Standard Progressive Matrices and 79 on the TONI-II I.Q. tests. A score of 70 or below supports a finding of mental retardation. ”


  2. Dudley Sharp says:

    There is no 3 drug cocktail.

    It is one drug.

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