Paul Goodwin’s execution was scheduled for 12:01 a.m.
It wasn’t until many minutes later that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) made an announcement: He had denied the death row inmate’s clemency appeal hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected two similar petitions.
His lawyers claimed the 48-year-old was mentally disabled and that death was an unfit punishment for his crime. He was convicted of killing 63-year-old widow Joan Crotts with a ball-peen hammer in 1998.
At 1:17 a.m. Wednesday, Goodwin’s lethal injection began in an execution room inside a prison in Bonne Terre, Mo., less than 60 miles from St. Louis. Eight minutes later, he was pronounced dead. His death marked the 10th execution in Missouri this year — the most in the state’s history.
Both in his Supreme Court appeal and his petition presented to the governor, Goodwin’s attorneys noted his IQ was 73, a score considered well-below average. By most accounts, an average IQ ranges from 90 to 109. His sister, Mary Mifflin, called on Nixon to commute his death sentence to life behind bars.
In an affidavit, Mifflin said it was “not a just punishment for his crime — an act that occurred out of passion, not premeditation, by a man with the mental capabilities of a child, not an adult.”
The Supreme Court has ruled the Constitution forbids the execution of those who are intellectually disabled. Though, it has declined to provide a strict legal definition of disability or specify some single factor, such as IQ, that is conclusive.
The Court denied Goodwin’s appeal as well as a second petition involving lethal injection drugs.
Goodwin’s lawyers did not argue his innocence.
On March 1, 1998, Goodwin was out drinking with a friend. That night, prosecutors said, he broke into Crotts’s house in St. Louis County and hid in the basement. The next morning, Goodwin — 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing 340 pounds — stood over his petite 4-foot-9 victim, sexually assaulted her, pushed her down the basement stairs and hit her over the head with a ball-peen hammer three times. He left a note on the kitchen table that read, “You are next.” Crotts’s daughter, Debbie Decker, said she believes the message was meant for her, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A few years earlier, Goodwin had lived in a white boardinghouse next door to them. He was evicted in 1996 after he reportedly harassed Crotts, chucking chicken bones and beer cans into her yard. He blamed her for his eviction, according to court records, telling her, “I’m going to get you for this.”
After the attack, Decker found Crotts bloodied in the basement and rushed her to the hospital. Crotts reportedly told her daughter what happened before undergoing brain surgery that night. She died on the operating table.
Goodwin confessed to the killing and was convicted.
For years since, his attorneys and his family have fought the death penalty. Mufflin said in her statement that Goodwin was in special education as a kid and was held back several grades in school. As an adult, she said, he had loved ones help him with everyday tasks such as buying groceries and paying bills. She said his girlfriend, whom he relied on for support, died many years ago and he drowned his pain in alcohol — a factor in the attack that killed Crotts.
At the murder trial, Goodwin claimed insanity. A psychologist for the defense testified that Goodwin had dealt with depression and battled post-traumatic stress disorder. A psychologist for the prosecution noted that his IQ was low, but not enough to categorize him as mentally disabled. He was sentenced to death row.
In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld that decision, stating he was mentally competent enough to be put to death.
Before Goodwin’s execution, Decker told the Post-Dispatch she planned to make the trip to Bonne Terre to watch him die.
“It will be 16 years, nine months, 10 days,” she said. “I’ve been sitting back waiting for this to happen. I’m hoping all these bad memories will go away.”
Hours before the Missouri execution, Georgia’s death row inmate Robert Wayne Holsey, another prisoner who claimed an intellectual disability, was also executed. In the hours leading up to his death, the Supreme Court denied his appeal, in which he argued he had not been given the opportunity to demonstrate his disability during trial — a violation of his constitutional rights. In his petition, he said the state’s standard “creates an unacceptable risk of wrongful execution of the intellectually disabled,” according to USA Today.
The state said Holsey had been fairly represented and that he was not disabled at the time of his trial, claiming he “understood complicated legal concepts, and had a sophisticated vocabulary.” His IQ has been measured around 70, his lawyers said.
Holsey also argued his original trial attorney was an alcoholic who had admitted chugging a quart of vodka one day during the murder trial. The attorney has since been disbarred.
“Robert Wayne Holsey is an intellectually disabled African-American man who was represented at trial by a chronic alcoholic who was more concerned about avoiding his own criminal prosecution than defending his client against the death penalty,” Brian Kammer, Hosley’s current attorney, said, according to NBC News.
Hosley, 49, was convicted in the 1997 murder of Baldwin County sheriff’s Deputy Will Robinson, whom he shot moments after a convenience store robbery, court documents said.
Before his execution at the state prison in Jackson, Ga., Tuesday night, Holsey addressed the officer’s father.
“Mr. Robinson, I’m sorry for taking your son’s life that night,” he said. “He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
Holsey added: “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and my family.”