CA Supreme Court overturns death sentence for intellectually disabled prisoner

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Robert Lewis, Jr. is off California’s death row after 34 years. Yesterday, the California Supreme Court overturned Lewis’s death sentence, finding “substantial evidence” that he is intellectually disabled.

The unanimous decision means the 65-year-old Lewis’s death sentence will be reduced to life without the possiblity of parole.

Attorney Robert Sanger, who is a Death Penalty Focus board member, has been working on Lewis’s case since 1994. He said the court’s ruling “sets a strong precedent on Atkins law.” In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the intellectually disabled constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. However, the decision left it up to the states to define who has an intellectual disability.

Lewis was sentenced to death in 1984 for the robbery and murder of Milton Estell in Long Beach in October 1983. The jury never heard evidence of his intellectual disabilities, and his trial lasted just four days. It took the jury only 90 minutes to sentence him to death.

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