Steve Wells went before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit this past week in fighting for Bruce Webster, who appears to have been mentally retarded when he committed the crime for which he was convicted. Nevertheless, he sits on death row. This is not supposed to happen in the United States of America. (See, also, “A sentence of death shall not be carried out upon a person who is mentally retarded.” 18 U.S.C. 3596(c)).
But Webster’s lawyers had made the argument that Webster was mentally retarded and the jury rejected that argument.
Then, after Webster’s appeal rights were exhausted, newly discovered evidence came to light: independent diagnoses by government physicians of mental retardation before Webster allegedly committed the crime for which he was sentenced. (The diagnosis was in the context of a social security claim.)
Can Webster get into court again? How many appeals is he entitled to have?
1996 amendments to federal habeas legislation was passed to prevent those convicted of crimes from “thwarting justice and avoiding just punishment by filing frivolous appeals for years on end,” but critics argue that “the inability to make multiple appeals increases the risk of an innocent person being killed.”
On which side of the line are Mr. Webster’s circumstances?