Convicted murderer Stanley Robertson is ineligible for the death penalty if jurors believe a psychologist for the killer's defense team.
In testimony that began Wednesday but will continue in-depth Thursday, Vanderbilt psychology professor Dan Reschly said he has diagnosed the 45-year-old College Station man with mild mental retardation.
Robertson was convicted last week of the August 2010 murder of his ex-girlfriend's mother, Annie Toliver. She was stabbed more than 30 times, an attack that began when she was sitting in the College Station Walmart parking lot. Robertson dumped her body in a Fort Worth parking lot, then led police on a chase that ended with him crashing his SUV into a patrol car.
By virtue of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, people determined to have mental retardation cannot be executed. A mild version of the disorder includes an IQ of between 55 and 70-75 and some deficiencies in the person's ability to function and perform normal, day-to-day activities.
Robertson took special education classes as a student in Alabama, but was not classified as being mentally retarded by the school district. One of the prongs of mental retardation the jury must determine is that the person must have been shown to have the disorder prior to age 18. Reschly says Robertson had it prior to 18 by his estimation.
Reschly took the jury through a lengthy explanation of the disorder and other issues, but did not get to his specific findings on Robertson before the court proceedings ended for Wednesday.
The day in court didn't start until 2:00 p.m. because an out-of-state witness hadn't arrived yet. However, it was an eventful morning for Robertson. He was taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to undergo a brain scan. He had already had one done at UTMB, but an error in the scan forced Brazos County authorities to take him back for a second scan.
Defense attorney John Wright told the court the scan was being done at no cost, but that an analysis of the scan by their expert would cost the court more than $5,000. There are obvious costs to transport the convicted murderer to Galveston and back securely.
Once the proceedings got underway Wednesday, the defense called Auburn University entomologist Ron Smith, who discussed the pesticides applied 12 to 16 times a year on the fields and around the Alabama home where Robertson and his family worked and lived.
In addition, a criminologist testified about studies on people who were sexually abused as children. While she was not asked to specifically make judgments on Robertson, Donna Vandiver from Texas State University told jurors that studies show there is not just a correlation, but also causation between sexual abuse and future criminal behavior.
Under cross examination, Vandiver confirmed that only about 30 percent of people who are abused as a child -- like Robertson was -- end up committing crimes. On the issue of pesticides, prosecutors worked to note that many other people, including Robertson's family members, worked fields and were exposed to the chemicals.
Robertson's lawyers have argued on a number of fronts in its portion of the punishment phase, but most notably leading up to Wednesday, on Robertson's upbringing. He grew up without a father, on farmland, his family poor and living in a rundown home with no running water or heat. He was picked on for his family's poverty and his lack of intelligence.
In addition, Robertson claims sexual abuse by his brother-in-law, a secret he didn't reveal for nearly two decades. A psychologist for the defense testified that the shame and stigma Robertson felt from that, combined with being teased as a child, led Robertson to try to commit suicide on a number of occasions.
If the jury determines Robertson poses a danger to others, the next question they must answer is whether there are mitigating circumstances that would warrant a life sentence instead of the death penalty. If they do not find any, the last question they must answer is whether Robertson is mentally retarded.
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