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A federal judge in Indiana Thursday threw out the federal death sentence for an Arkansas man convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 16-year-old Texas girl in 1994, ruling the man’s intellectual disability precluded his execution.
Bruce Carneil Webster, now 46, was one of five men prosecutors say kidnapped Lisa Rene from her Arlington, Texas home to get back at her two brothers for a botched $5,000 marijuana deal. Over two days, Lisa was taken to Arkansas, gang-raped, bludgeoned with a shovel and buried alive.
Rene was dragged from the family’s apartment as she pleaded with a 911 operator. “They’re trying to break down my door! Hurry up!” she said, according to a tape of the call.
Attorneys for Webster, who is housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. had challenged the death sentence based on what they claimed was previously unavailable evidence that medical professionals had found Webster to be intellectually disabled before his trial.
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In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William T. Lawrence cited a 1993 application for Social Security benefits by Webster, in which two psychologists and a physician found him to be “mentally retarded and antisocial.” He also cited seven different IQ tests taken by Webster between 1992 and 2018, in which Webster scored between 59 and 65. An IQ score of about 70 is considered a benchmark for intellectual disability.
“The scores … consistently demonstrate that Webster has an IQ that falls within the range of someone with intellectual deficits,” wrote Lawrence, who dismissed arguments by prosecutors that Webster deliberately underperformed on the tests so as not to jeopardize his application for Social Security benefits.
“The application materials revealed that Webster was barely literate,” the judge wrote. “For example, for information about his job duties, Webster listed his job title as ‘Cement’.”
Webster’s appellate attorneys have said his trial attorneys tried to get the Social Security records but were given nothing. Steven Wells, a member of Webster’s legal team, called the ruling a “just outcome” for “an intellectually disabled man who never should have been sentenced to death.”
Erin Dooley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas, which tried Webster, said prosecutors are evaluating how to proceed following the ruling. Prosecutors had argued in court documents that prosecutors argued Webster was faking his intellectual disability, had sufficient mental capabilities to manage a drug dealing business and that during his crime, Webster “demonstrated an ability to plan, strategize, and adapt, particularly in his numerous efforts to conceal his crime by destroying forensic evidence.”
The case has been sent back to federal court in Dallas for resentencing.
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Webster had been set to be put to death in April 2007, but the execution was later postponed. Orlando Hall of El Dorado, Ark., was also sentenced to death for Rene’s murder and remains on death row.
There are currently 62 inmates on federal death row in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last federal execution took place in 2003.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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