LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A Kentucky death row inmate won a hearing Thursday on his claim of being mentally disabled and ineligible for execution for a 1987 kidnapping, rape and slaying of a Northern Kentucky woman.
The Kentucky Supreme Court also granted Gregory L. Wilson, 55, a hearing on whether semen used as evidence in the case still exists and should be tested.
Chief Justice John D. Minton ruled that Kentucky's procedures for determining the mental status of death row inmates does not violate Wilson's due process rights. He ordered a hearing within 180 days.
"We find that Wilson's school record constitutes some evidence that he is mentally retarded," Minton wrote.
Wilson is awaiting execution for the death of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley, a restaurant manager who disappeared while returning from a friend's house on May 29, 1987. Her remains were found two weeks later in a wooded area in Indiana. Wilson and 58-year-old Brenda Humphrey were convicted in the case. Humphrey is serving life in prison and, in April, lost her first bid for parole.
Justice Bill Cunningham filed a scathing dissent, finding that the court's majority is sending the case back for a hearing "without regard to the overwhelming evidence of Wilson's guilt."
"It is a sad commentary upon our judicial system that after almost twenty-five years since the crime was committed our Court today is proclaiming that we still haven't got it right," Cunningham wrote. "It is certainly no solace of the family of Deborah Pooley."
Pooley's sister, Bonnie Shinkle, who lives near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Thursday she's disappointed with the ruling, but not angry as long as Wilson will not get out of prison.
"Who said life was fair?" Shinkle told The Associated Press.
Wilson's attorney, Dan Goyette of Louisville, declined comment Thursday.
"It's frustrating," said Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders. "I feel sorry for the family and friends still waiting for justice that's been delayed yet again by a system that places little value on victims' rights."
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing the mentally disabled amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Under Kentucky's law, a person seeking to be declared mentally disabled must have an IQ of 70 or below along with substantial deficits in adaptive behavior, both of which manifested during the person's developmental years.
Wilson submitted school records to the court indicating that at age 14, he had an IQ of 62, was reading at a third-grade level and was performing work at a first- and second-grade level.
Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett in September 2010 rejected Wilson's claim. That ruling came just days before the state had been set to execute Wilson. A judge in Frankfort later halted the lethal injection after finding issues with the way the state carried out the process.
Kentucky is now weighing whether to switch the drugs it uses to carry out an execution and has until July to either do so, or go to trial and defend the current three-drug method.
Minton also ordered the trial court to determine if DNA testing should be conducted on semen found in the backseat of Pooley's car, which Wilson and Humphrey stole when they kidnapped Pooley. Minton said the test results would be "quasi-exculpatory evidence" because it would neither exonerate nor implicate Wilson and ordered the circuit court to look at what role the semen played in Wilson's conviction.
"It does not prove that Wilson did not rape the victim, but does prove that someone else's semen was in the car," Minton wrote.
Cunningham also took issue with granting a hearing on the DNA testing, saying Minton's own conclusion that the tests wouldn't exonerate Wilson which makes them pointless.
"Why do we invite additional issues and litigation on the DNA examination by asking the trial court to make findings on whether the testing of the semen is warranted?" Cunningham wrote. "I strongly urge that we use this remand to go ahead and test the DNA and have this issue removed from this incredibly elongated case forever."
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