The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday halted the execution of a convicted child murderer who claims he’s intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the state’s harshest punishment.

Steven Long, 46, was set to die next Wednesday for the 2005 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Dallas County. Courts had previously rejected his appeals claiming intellectual disability, but that was before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Texas’ methods for determining intellectual disability for death-sentenced people in March.

With that ruling in mind, Long’s lawyer, Thomas Scott Smith, again asked the courts to stay Long’s execution earlier this month, presenting evidence that Long’s IQ score has regularly been placed in the low 60s. His request was granted Monday afternoon — the court tossed out the execution to further review the case.

“In light of this new law and the facts of applicant’s application, we have determined the applicant’s execution should be stayed pending further order of this Court,” the court order said.

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Long was sentenced to death in the murder of Kaitlyn Smith. In October 2005, Long had recently moved in with a couple and their daughter across the street from Kaitlyn, and one night she came over for a sleepover, according to a court opinion. By morning, Kaitlyn was missing, and her body was later found partially wrapped in trash bags underneath an empty trailer.

A bloody fingerprint near her body matched Long's, and he confessed to the rape and murder of the girl. He was sentenced to death the next year, and he has lived on death row for almost 11 years.

In a 2008 appeal, Long’s lawyers appealed his sentence, claiming he was intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing intellectually disabled people was unconstitutional, but it left it up to the states to determine the disability. The courts ruled him fit for execution under Texas’ standards at the time.

But over the years, the high court had several more rulings further refining how states may determine who is disabled. In March, the case invalidated Texas' method in the case of death row inmate Bobby Moore.

In 2014, a state court used current medical standards to deem Moore intellectually disabled, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled that determination, saying the court should have used the state’s standards instead. The state relied on decades-old medical standards and a requirement that a person has a low IQ and has had poor adaptive functioning since childhood, which it determined in a controversial set of factors.

The high court rejected the method, saying Texas’ refusal to use current medical standards and its reliance on nonclinical factors violated the U.S. Constitution. Since the ruling, other Texas death row inmates have had their sentences changed from death to life in prison.

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With a new standard in place after Moore, Long again brought his intellectual disability claim to the courts.

“The use of [Texas’ rejected method] in deciding the claim creates the impermissible risk that Mr. Long will be executed despite significant evidence establishing that he is among the class of persons for whom execution is proscribed as cruel and unusual,” his lawyer, Smith, wrote in a court filing.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bobby Moore in March, sending his case back to the appeals court and invalidating the state's method of determining if a death-sentenced inmate is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. [Full story]

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