Court finds death row inmate mentally retarded

January 17, 2008 4:45:00 AM PST
The state's top criminal appeals court has reduced a death sentence to life imprisonment for a death row inmate condemned for murdering a Houston-area convenience store clerk during a 1995 robbery. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals handed down its ruling Wednesday in the case of Daniel Plata. The court found that Plata, 32, was mentally retarded and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

The Texas Defender Service, which handled Plata's appeal, said its client was the 11th Texas death row inmate to receive a life sentence since 2002. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Virginia case that the execution of mentally retarded inmates was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Plata was one of four teenagers charged in the robbery of a Stop-N-Go in northwest Harris County. The store's security camera showed Plata fatally shot cashier Murlidhar Mahbubani. Plata pleaded guilty during his capital murder trial and was sentenced to death.

In December 2006, a Harris County state district judge held a hearing on whether Plata was mentally retarded. In the end, state District Court Judge Mark Kent Ellis rejected some methods used by the state expert who found Plata's intelligence topped the Supreme Court's 70 IQ retardation standard.

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