Daryl Atkins’ Sentence Commuted To Life In Prison

Daryl Atkins’ death sentence has been commuted to life in prison. Atkins is mentally retarded. He was convicted at eighteen of the 1996 robbery and murder of Eric Nesbitt, 21, an Air Force mechanic.

Atkins is now 30. He has spent a decade sitting on death row while appeals have been ongoing. His lawyer argued that because of his mental disability he should not be executed. The case was turned over to the U.S. Supreme Court after a ruling in 2002 that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.

A jury decided in 2003 that Atkins was not retarded and upheld his original sentence. That verdict was overturned because of errors made during the time of the trial. It was revealed while Atkins was awaiting a new trial this year that prosecutors withheld evidence during his original 1998 trial.

Atkins was a drug user. Prosecutors tried to contend that his bad marks in school did not stem from his retardation but rather from a bad attitude. In Virginia mental retardation is defined as having an IQ below 70 before the age of 18 and not being able to function well in society. His stepsister stated that as a teenager Atkins was unable to prepare his own meals or “even clean out his own ears.”

Atkins has taken four IQ tests since he was charged with the murder. He scored between 59 and 76 on those tests.


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