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Monday, March 6, 2017

Freddie Lee Hall: Should Cold-Blooded Killers Be Spared The Death Penalty Simply Because They're Stupid?

     Throw a ball in any maximum security prison and it will bounce off a lot of stupid men. If these vicious rapists, thugs, and murderers were smart, they wouldn't be behind bars. Thank heavens so many criminals are dimwits. Moreover, it's not stupidity that makes a person violent. Most stupid people obey the law and wouldn't hurt a fly. So, just because a cold-blooded, sadistic killer has an IQ so low he can't get into community college is no reason to cut him a break when it comes time for the death penalty. Take Freddie Lee Hall.

     In February 1978, 33-year-old Freddie Lee Hall was out on parole in connection with a recent conviction for assault with intent to rape. Given his long history of violent crime, it's hard to believe he wasn't in prison. Hall and one of his criminal associates, on February 21, 1978, were in Leesburg, Florida looking for a car to steal for use in an armed robbery.

     That afternoon Hall and his accomplice spotted 21-year-old Karol Hurst coming out of the Pantry Pride Grocery Store. She was seven months pregnant. As Hurst walked toward her car the men accosted her and forced the terrified victim into Hall's vehicle.

     Hall drove off with the abducted woman in his car. The accomplice followed in the victim's vehicle. Hall drove Hurst to a wooded area where the two thugs raped and beat the victim savagely before, execution style, they shot her to death. To hide the body, Hall dragged the pregnant corpse deeper into the woods.

     That night, in the murdered woman's car, Hall and his friend drove to the convenience store in Hernando County they planned to hold up. As they sat in the parking lot waiting for the right moment to strike, a suspicious clerk inside the store called the sheriff's station. The sheriff's office happened to be across the street from where Hall and his accomplice were casing out the robbery.

     Deputy Lonnie Coburn pulled into the parking lot and confronted the suspicious men. After getting the drop on the deputy, Hall shot the officer to death with his own service revolver.

     A jury found Freddie Lee Hall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder on June 23, 1978. Jurors, by an eight to four vote, recommended the death penalty. The judge, four days later, sentenced Hall to death row.

     At Hall's sentencing hearing, his lawyers argued that their client was too stupid to execute. Hall had been classified by public school officials in the 1960s as "mentally retarded." Ten years before his death sentence, Hall had scored as low as 60 and as high as 80 on IQ tests. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental Disorders, an IQ of 70, plus or minus five points, represents the upper range of intellectual disability.

     Over the years, Hall's anti-capital punishment attorneys arranged to have him examined by a battery of psychiatrists and other medical practitioners who declared the death row inmate mentally disabled.

     In 2002, the United States Supreme Court barred states from executing "mentally disabled" prisoners. The high court left the determination of who is so afflicted to the states. In Florida, as measured by an IQ test, the threshold for concluding that an inmate is mentally disabled is a score below 70. (In Florida, people with IQs as high as 75 are classified as mentally disabled for purposes of state welfare.)

     On March 3, 2014, appellate attorneys appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Freddie Lee Hall. The death house lawyers, in challenging Florida's mental threshold for execution, argued that IQ tests alone were insufficient in establishing mental disability.

     Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out the brutality of Hall's crime, and noted that it had taken several steps for Hall to abduct then kill the pregnant woman. The killing of the police officer was certainly premeditated. Didn't the crime itself reflect sufficient mental capacity?

     On May 27, 2014, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants whose IQ scores are near 70 should not be executed. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that states should not "view a single factor as dispositive in determining intellectual disability." As a result of this high court decision, Freddie Lee Hall will live out his useless life on death row.
 
     If a criminal is smart enough to read, get a driver's license, plan a robbery, and make an effort not to get caught, he should be smart enough to execute. Implicit in this Supreme Court decision is the notion that somehow society is to blame for all the stupidity in this country.

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