US inmate who spent nearly 40 years on death row is granted parole

Neil Vigdor, The New York Times

Posted at Jun 10 2020 01:24 AM

A Texas inmate who spent nearly 40 years on death row and was at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that exempts people with intellectual disabilities from being executed was granted parole Monday.

The inmate, Bobby Moore, had been sentenced to death in 1980 in the killing of a supermarket clerk during a robbery in Houston.

But last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Moore was intellectually disabled after rejecting the state’s methodology for diagnosing intellectual disabilities. The nation’s top court said that the standards used by the state relied too heavily on IQ scores and took account of factors rooted in stereotypes.

A Texas appeals court then resentenced Moore to life in prison in November, making him eligible for parole.

And on Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted in favor of releasing Moore, 60, who is African American. The board’s decision was sent in an email by David Gutiérrez, the board’s presiding officer, to a group of state lawmakers.

“I would like to thank each of you for bringing attention to Mr. Moore’s plight to the board,” Gutiérrez wrote.

In March, more than 20 state lawmakers wrote a letter to the state parole board that sought the release of Moore. The lawmakers are part of a recently formed Criminal Justice Reform Caucus in the Legislature.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and co-chairman of the caucus, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the parole board’s decision was “a breath of hope during a very difficult national conversation.”

He was referring to the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 while he was handcuffed on the ground.

Kim Ogg, a Democrat who is the district attorney of Harris County, which includes Houston, had shared the view of the Supreme Court.

“We supported his resentencing to a life sentence instead of death,” Dane Schiller, a spokesman for Ogg, wrote in an email Monday night. “We agree with the U.S. Supreme Court that the intellectually disabled cannot be executed, no matter how heinous the crime. His parole is a matter exclusively in the hands of the state’s parole board.”

A life sentence without the possibility of parole had not been enacted in Texas when Moore was sentenced to death in 1980. That made him eligible for parole. His release date has not been set.

Moore is not the first inmate on death row to have the terms of his sentence changed on account of mental ability. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that Daryl Atkins, a Virginia man who had been convicted of murder, was intellectually disabled and said that executing him would have violated an Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2008, Atkins was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.