Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams found Andre Jackson is intellectually disabled now and likely was at the time he murdered Emily Zak, and that allowing his execution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The judge issued the 11-page opinion more than two years after she presided over a hearing that featured testimony from psychologists who found that Jackson’s scores were equivalent to that of a 9-year-old child.
“Every professional that evaluated [Jackson] noted that his intellectual functioning was at a lower level than expected for someone in his age range,” Collier-Williams wrote.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office has vowed to appeal Collier-Williams’s opinion.
“The facts of this case are some of the most disturbing we have ever had," O’Malley said.Jackson unsuccessfully filed a number of appeals in the 1990s. Then in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Atkins v. Virginia in which the court’s justices held that executing an inmate who is intellectually disabled amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
That ruling kicked off a new set of appeals for Jackson, whose lawyers argued IQ tests dating back to when he was 12 showed that he was intellectually disabled and functioned at a level much lower than the average person his age.
His case crawled along in the Common Pleas Court’s docket over the next 13 years, until Collier-Williams in 2016 allowed lawyers for Jackson and O’Malley’s office to hire psychologists to test Jackson on his IQ and his intellectual ability. A two-day hearing was held to present their findings.
The average adult’s IQ is about 100, according to court records. Courts have generally accepted the benchmark IQ to determine if a person can face the death penalty at 70, but they have held that an IQ score alone is not enough evidence for a judge to determine whether a defendant is intellectually disabled. They have to find a defendant has subaverage intellectual functioning, significant limitations in everyday skills and that the symptoms began as a child.
Jackson had his IQ measured five times in his life, including two tests in 2016.
He scored a 68 on a test when he was 12, which is generally considered intellectually disabled. He took another test in 1992, when he was 26 years old and had been in prison for four years. He scored a 72 on that test. He scored an IQ of 76 on a 2003.
In two tests in 2016, he scored 80 on one test and 67 on the other.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Christopher Schroeder wrote in court filings that Jackson’s highest score was likely the most reliable. They cited testimony from their expert, Carla Dreyer, who gave him the test that measured his IQ at 67. She said she felt Jackson scored low because he didn’t try very hard, which deflated his score. She said that it is nearly impossible for someone to artificially inflate their IQ score.
“I’m not trying to be inappropriate with the court but you can’t fake smart,” Dreyer testified, according to court records. "You can fake dumb.”
Using that score would put Jackson out of the range of even being considered borderline intellectually disabled, Schroeder wrote.
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