Death Penalty

Man With Low IQ Is Executed in Texas; Appeals Court's 'Of Mice and Men' Reference Irks Author's Son

Clarified: A 54-year-old man with a low IQ who reportedly couldn’t handle money and sucked his thumb was put to death Tuesday in Texas for the 1992 murder of a police informant.

Although Marvin Wilson had an IQ of 61, and was considered mildly mentally retarded, the U.S. Supreme Court has given states flexibility in defining the degree of mental retardation that precludes execution. Wilson’s death sentence has brought renewed attention to a 2004 decision of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that points to a character in John Steinbeck’s famous novel, Of Mice and Men, as it discusses these parameters, reports the New York Times on its The Lede page.

The opinion (PDF), with relevant portions discussing mental retardation and Steinbeck’s Lennie Small character highlighted, is linked to a Beaumont Enterprise article. Reading in a British newspaper article about the then-imminent execution of Wilson and the connection to Steinbeck’s novel, the author’s son weighed in and said in a written statement on Tuesday that his father would have been “deeply angry and ashamed” to see his work to be used in this manner.

Meanwhile, John Steinbeck himself, in a 1937 interview, told the New York Times that his character was modeled on an actual killer who didn’t fully comprehend his own actions and had been treated accordingly by the American legal system at the time, notes Robert Mackey in The Lede.

“Lennie was a real person,” said Steinbeck. “He’s in an insane asylum in California right now. I worked alongside him for many weeks. He didn’t kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman. Got sore because the boss had fired his pal and stuck a pitchfork right through his stomach. I hate to tell you how many times I saw him do it. We couldn’t stop him until it was too late.”

Updated at 12:40 p.m. to clarify that Wilson was considered mildly mentally retarded.

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