Sunday, February 06, 2005

Warning: Your Lawyer May Be Hazardous To Your Life

There's something of a Catch-22 going on in a prison in Virginia:

YORKTOWN, Va., Feb. 3 - Three years ago, in the case of a Virginia man named Daryl R. Atkins, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. But Mr. Atkins's recent test scores could eliminate him from that group.

His scores have shot up, a defense expert said, thanks to the mental workout his participation in years of litigation gave him.

The Supreme Court, which did not decide whether Mr. Atkins was retarded, noted that he scored 59 on an I.Q. test in 1998. The cutoff for retardation in Virginia is 70.

A defense expert who retested Mr. Atkins last year found that his I.Q. was 74. In court here on Thursday, prosecutors said their expert's latest test yielded 76.

Of course, his crime rather strongly argues against his being 'mentally retarded':

In 1996, he and another man abducted Eric Nesbitt, 21, an airman from Langley Air Force Base, forced him to withdraw money from an A.T.M. and then shot him eight times, killing him.

So whether the defense expert is correct, or not, would seem to be irrelevant:

"Oddly enough, because of his constant contact with the many lawyers that worked on his case," the psychologist, Dr. Evan S. Nelson, wrote in a report in November, "Mr. Atkins received more intellectual stimulation in prison than he did during his late adolescence and early adulthood. That included practicing his reading and writing skills, learning about abstract legal concepts and communicating with professionals."

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