Miss. Supreme Court orders mental retardation hearing for death row inmate

Published 9:01 pm Friday, February 16, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a mental retardation hearing for death row inmate Leroy Lynch.

Lynch was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1998 for his role in the shooting death of 74-year-old Richard Lee outside Lee’s home in Boyle.

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 2004.

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Lynch returned to the court with a post-conviction petition, in which he claimed new evidence was found that might win him a new trial.

The two main issues raised by Lynch were that he is mentally retarded and that his attorney should have done a better job. The Supreme Court sent the case back to Bolivar County Circuit Court for hearings on both claims.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in a Virginia case that it’s illegal to execute people who are mentally retarded. The court said it would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute anyone with a combined IQ of 75 or lower.

In dispensing with dozens of mental retardation claims from Mississippi’s death row, the Mississippi Supreme Court has required the inmates to produce an expert opinion that the defendant possessed an IQ of 75 or below and that further testing showed the inmate was not malingering.

Chief Justice Jim Smith, writing in Thursday’s decision, said prosecutors did not concede that Lynch is mentally retarded but they agreed Lynch is entitled to a hearing.

Smith said court records included a report that Lynch has an intelligence quotient of 72. Smith said mild mental retardation is typically used to describe people with an IQ level within an approximate range of 55-75.

Smith said the failure of Lynch’s attorney to pursue a mental-retardation claim in addition to other deficiencies was grounds for a hearing on the issue of ineffective counsel.

At Lynch’s trial, prosecutors said Lynch was a willing participant as he and co-defendant Kevin Scott stalked Lee from a shopping center in Cleveland to his home intent on stealing the man’s car.

Authorities said Lee was shot once in the head and once in the back as he sat in his car in the carport of his home on Nov. 15, 1995.

Prosecutors said Scott and Lynch left Clarksdale with the intent of coming to Cleveland to steal a car to replace one Scott wrecked the day before.

Prosecutors said the two men scouted store parking lots around Cleveland before finally spotting Lee’s vehicle parked outside a grocery store. Lynch and Scott followed Lee to his home in Boyle, where the shooting occurred, lawmen said.