WASHINGTON The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the U.S. Constitution bars the execution of mentally retarded people as “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The court said it will hear an appeal by North Carolina death-row inmate Ernest McCarver, whose execution the justices halted this month just hours before he was to be put to death.
The justices are scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on a case involving a Texas death-row inmate whose lawyers say he is mentally retarded and has the mind of a 7-year-old. Johnny Paul Penry’s lawyers contend jurors who sentenced him to death for murder did not have the chance to properly consider his mental capacity.
The Supreme Court used Penry’s case in 1988 to rule that the Constitution allows the execution of mentally retarded killers, although the court threw out his first conviction.