Texas Court Stays Robert James Campbell's Execution At The Eleventh Hour

A federal appeals court has stayed the execution of Robert James Campbell in Texas, giving Campbell’s defense team additional time to make the case that he is mentally retarded and thus ineligible for capital punishment. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the unanimous ruling just hours before Texas was planning to carry out the execution. Had the 5th Circuit refused to grant a stay, Campbell would have become the first person executed in the U.S. since the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April.

Campbell was convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of a bank teller. A neuropsychologist has diagnosed him with “mild retardation,” and testing concluded that he possesses “applied academic skills consistent with an individual midway through fifth grade.”

"It is regrettable that we are now reviewing evidence of intellectual disability at the eleventh hour before Campbell's scheduled execution,” said the judges in their ruling. “However, from the record before us, it appears that we cannot fault Campbell or his attorneys, present or past, for the delay.”

Campbell’s counsel had also objected to the execution on the grounds that the state hasn't fully revealed its execution procedures to their client. Texas refuses to disclose the source of its pentobarbital, the drug it uses in lethal injections. This is relevant in part because the last Texas inmate to be executed using the drug, Jose Villegas, complained of a burning sensation prior to his death, which could potentially violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who’s presided over more executions than any other governor in modern history, supported Campbell’s execution, as did Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s running against Wendy Davis to replace Perry in the governor’s mansion.

"Campbell's last-minute claim of mental retardation, which was previously raised and rejected in the federal and state courts does not warrant review,” Abbott said. “Campbell is not mentally retarded.”