For the second time this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stopped an upcoming execution. And for the second time this year it was because of a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the state’s method for determining if death row inmates are intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution.
On Friday, the court halted the scheduled death of 55-year-old Juan Segundo, who was set for execution Wednesday. His execution would have been the 11th in Texas this year and the 19th in the nation.
In 2006, Segundo was convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of 11-year-old Vanessa Villa in Fort Worth. The girl was found strangled in her bed after her mother had gone out to run errands, according to court documents. The case went cold for decades until a routine DNA search linked Segundo to the crime.
At trial, the prosecution accused him of two other rapes and murders. His brother testified that Segundo had fallen down the stairs as a baby and always seemed “slow” and “always in a daze” afterward. His IQ was tested at 75 — a borderline result for intellectual disability.
His earlier appeals, including those claiming his disability before the 2017 ruling, had been denied by the courts. In his successful appeal filed last month, his attorneys argued he had been diagnosed by multiple professionals as intellectually disabled based on consistently low IQ scores and severe deficits such as being unable to read a clock or tell right from left.
Since 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that executing people with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional, but it left it up to the states to legally determine the condition. In 2014, the court weighed in on borderline cases, ruling that states can’t use an IQ below 70 as the sole way to define the disability.
And last year, a Harris County case led to a high court ruling that specifically invalidated Texas’ way of determining the disability. The state’s method, created by the same court that stopped Segundo’s execution, had relied on decades-old medical standards and a controversial set of court-created factors. Those included determining the person's ability to lie and whether or not their family thought they were disabled.
In June, the Texas court adopted current medical standards as the method for determining intellectual disability, and shortly thereafter stopped the upcoming execution of another Texas death row inmate.
Now, the judges have done it again.
“In light of the Moore decision and the facts presented in applicant’s application, we have determined that applicant’s execution should be stayed pending further order of this Court,” the order said.
The two stays of execution by the Texas court pale in comparison to 2017, when the court stopped seven executions. Five of those rulings were before October.
And the state’s execution chamber has been more active in 2018 as well. This year, the state has put 10 men to death, and five more are scheduled through December. Seven executions were carried out in Texas in 2017.