By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favour of a death row inmate convicted of a 1980 Houston murder, finding that Texas used an obsolete standard to assess whether a defendant has an intellectual disability that would preclude execution.
The justices ruled 5-3 that a Texas court should reconsider whether Bobby Moore, 57, convicted at age 20 of fatally shooting an elderly grocery store clerk during a robbery, is intellectually disabled and thus not eligible for the death penalty.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the execution of people who are intellectually disabled violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In Moore's case, in a ruling authored by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court held that the state's system for assessing the intellect of defendants is deficient.
The lower court that upheld Moore's sentence wrongly used a 24-year-old definition employed in Texas when it determined Moore was not intellectually disabled, violating the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the court ruled.
Ginsburg noted that the Supreme Court had previously said that consideration of intellectual disability must be based on medical expertise.
"That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community's consensus," Ginsburg said.
Three of the court's conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, dissented. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberals in the ruling.
Moore's appeal focussed on how judges should weigh medical evidence of intellectual disability. His lawyers said that a lower court found that Moore's IQ of 70 was "within the range of mild mental retardation."
Moore, a repeat offender at the time of the murder, shot store clerk James McCarble in the head with a shotgun after entering the Birdsall Super Market with two other robbers wearing a wig and sunglasses, according to prosecutors. Authorities apprehended him in Louisiana 10 days later.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)