CONROE, Texas — A convicted killer whose death sentence was twice overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court is competent to stand trial despite IQ tests showing he may be mildly mentally retarded, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Johnny Paul Penry, 45, has spent half his life locked up for the fatal stabbing of Pamela Moseley Carpenter in 1979 at her home in Livingston.
The Supreme Court overturned his sentence most recently in June. Both times, the court said jurors were not given sufficient instructions on how to weigh his mental condition when they decided punishment.
As testimony began Wednesday in a competence hearing, the prosecution characterized Penry as a psychopath and manipulator.
"Look at the whole picture, not just the IQ tests. His IQ tests are jumping all over the place," Dist. Atty. Joe Price told jurors in opening remarks. "It doesn't mean he has to be a rocket scientist. If you took away his criminal functions, he could survive in society."
Defense attorney John Wright, though, likened Penry to a 6- or 7-year-old. "People are understandably skeptical when someone suggests some kind of mental impairment," he said. "The state will say he's faking it. Obviously, he's not."
If the jury finds Penry competent, a sentencing trial will be held at which he could be resentenced to death or given a life term.
Death penalty opponents point to Penry, who says he believes in Santa Claus and likes coloring books, as a reason why Texas should prohibit executions of the mentally retarded. A bill approved by the Texas Legislature last year to ban such punishment was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
Penry's IQ has been measured as high as 63, seven points below the threshold set by the Supreme Court for retardation.
Dr. Sheila Reed, a psychologist at Vernon State Hospital hired by the defense, testified Wednesday that her assessments showed Penry is mildly retarded and suffers from brain damage.