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THE NATION | THE SUPREME COURT

Conflicting Testimony Heard on Murderer's IQ

June 21, 2002

Daryl Atkins was 18 when, in 1996, he and another man confronted Eric Nesbitt, an Air Force serviceman, outside a convenience store near Hampton, Va., and forced him at gunpoint to withdraw money from an automated teller machine.

The pair then drove Nesbitt, in his pickup truck, to a remote area, where Atkins shot the airman eight times, killing him.

During Atkins' trial, there was conflicting testimony over whether he is mentally retarded. While a defense expert said Atkins had an IQ of 59 and was a poor student, an expert for the state said he was not retarded and of average intelligence.

The jury convicted Atkins after relying on testimony from his co-conspirator.

An attorney for the state of Virginia argued that jurors should be permitted to consider all the facts and make an ''individualized sentencing decision.'' At the sentencing hearing, the jury heard descriptions of 16 other crimes that Atkins had committed, including robberies and assaults.

The jury sentenced Atkins to death. While accepting that Atkins had a very low IQ, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the death sentence.

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