Texas just executed Marvin Wilson - a man with an IQ of 61. Even though it’s been a decade since the US Supreme Court ruled that “the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution,” Texas looked to literature for an excuse to keep killing.
The high court had left it up to states to use professional standards to define mental retardation, but instead Texas chose as its standard the fictional character, Lennie, from John Steinbeck’s, Of Mice and Men.
Steinbeck’s son told Huffington Post he was “certain” that if his father were alive, “he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”
According to a NY Times editorial, Texas has used the "Lennie" standard to reject claims of mental retardation in now 11 death penalty cases.
As guilty as Texas, is the Supreme Court for not intervening to stop Wilson’s execution. Tell the Court to bar all Texas executions until it develops professional standards for mental retardation.
We, the undersigned, demand that this senseless killing in Texas and everywhere else end at once.
It is beyond reprehensible that the state of Texas would use a fictional literary character as a standard to judge intellectual disability or define mental retardation as an excuse to execute a man whose abilities clearly fit into that category.
Steinbeck’s novel is about friendship and also about the lack of understanding of mental disability during the early 20th century. This and Steinbeck’s journal entry below highlight the irony and cruelty of the Texas Court’s actions.
In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other. — John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry
According to a NY Times report, when Thomas Steinbeck recently learned that a character his father created “to make a point about human loyalty and dedication” was being used by the Texas Court “as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die,” he was outraged and openly protested Wilson’s execution. He wrote that his father’s “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.
Since Texas apparently cannot find its way to follow Steinbeck’s true advice and try to understand and be kind to each other, it should, at the very least, be required to comply with the high court’s directive that states use professional standards to define mental retardation.
The nine remaining executions Texas has scheduled before the end of the year should be put on hold until this injustice is rectified.
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