Source AP ©

Mental retardation saves murderer from death sentence

The Missouri Supreme Court spared a convicted murderer from execution as he was recognized mentally retarded.

As a result of the unanimous ruling, Steven Parkus, 46, will instead serve a life prison sentence. State attorneys had argued that Parkus was not actually retarded and should have remained on death row.

Parkus originally was sent to prison in 1977 after being convicted of assault with the intent to rape and rob. While in prison, he was convicted of rape and sodomy for a 1980 offense and received a 30-year sentence. He was later convicted of strangling inmate Mark Steffenhagen, who was serving time for robbery, in 1985 and sentenced to death.

But in 2001, Gov. Bob Holden signed a law making Missouri the 16th state to bar the execution of the mentally retarded. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the execution of the mentally retarded was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Citing the new law and court precedent, Parkus asked the Missouri Supreme Court to rescind his death sentence. Supreme Court judges ordered a lower court to determine the matter. Washington County Circuit Judge Robert Stillwell ruled in September 2005 that Parkus was mentally retarded and should be sentenced to life in prison, instead of death.

On appeal, the Supreme Court determined there was significant evidence for Stillwell to declare Parkus mentally retarded.

The court noted that Parkus had numerous mental examinations from ages 8 to 17, seven of which determined he was mentally retarded.

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