On Nov. 25, 2020, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion in the case of a Bexar County man convicted of capital murder, reforming his death sentence to life in prison due to intellectual disability.
Geronimo Gutierrez, who is now 43 years old, was sentenced to death in April 2002. Gutierrez was found guilty of the 1999 abduction and murder of Rick Marin.
Shortly after the trial, the Supreme Court of the United States held that intellectually disabled persons are exempt from the death penalty. Gutierrez’s appeals raised the issue of his own intellectual disability since that ruling, as he has an IQ of 72. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), defines intellectual disability in the range of 65-75. In 2017, a separate Supreme Court ruling found the framework for deciding intellectual disability claims applied to Gutierrez’s initial appeals were unconstitutional because they were not informed by the views of medical experts.
Experts for the State and the Defense have since agreed Gutierrez was intellectually disabled. In 2019, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded this case to the trial court to make a new recommendation on the issue of intellectual disability. The Court of Criminal Appeals accepted the trial court’s recommendation, and the recent ruling of the Court will bring the appeals of this case to an end.
“The appeals of death penalty cases are lengthy and costly for taxpayers. While the standards for executions of persons with intellectual disabilities have changed since this offense was committed, they still apply to people on Death Row. The evidence of this Defendant’s intellectual disability existed at the time of his trial. More than 18 years after his conviction, that evidence remains. This court ruling means this Defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison and Mr. Marin’s family will not have to worry about this case coming back for trial. I hope this ruling brings them some peace,” said Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.
This case presented a single, narrow claim that Gutierrez’s death sentence was a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because he is intellectually disabled. The District Attorney’s Office has spoken to Mr. Marin’s family, and they are comfortable with the result under these circumstances.
This case was handled by the District Attorney’s Appeals and Conviction Integrity Divisions. To read the full opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, click here.
Also this week, District Attorney Gonzales joined a bipartisan group of more than 95 criminal justice leaders to call for an immediate halt to federal executions and asking the President to commute the sentences of the five people currently scheduled to be executed by the federal government over the next two months.
“The decision by the federal government to rush through these executions during a pandemic and at the end of the President’s term is troubling. When there are other options, the government should allow those to be exhausted. The death penalty is final. If there are errors at any point in a case, those should be considered before a sentence like this has been carried out. We cannot have faith in a fair and just legal system when justice is rushed,” Gonzales said.
The full statement can be found here.