By Michael Graczyk
HUNTSVILLE — Robert Ladd was paroled after serving about a third of his 40-year prison sentence for the fatal stabbing of a Dallas woman whose body was set ablaze in a fire that killed her two children.
Four years later, a mentally impaired woman in East Texas was strangled and beaten with a hammer. Her arms and legs were bound, bedding was placed between her legs, and — like the Dallas woman more than a decade earlier in 1980 — she was set on fire in her apartment.
Ladd is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1996 killing of 38-year-old Vicki Ann Garner, whose burned body was found in her Tyler apartment. His attorneys insist Ladd is mentally impaired, and on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.
The high court hadn’t ruled on the request, but a federal appeals court late Wednesday rejected another appeal challenging the potency of the drug Texas uses for executions, saying the best course would be for the Supreme Court to rule on the matter. If the high court refuses both appeals, Ladd will be the second inmate this year to be executed in nation’s most active death penalty state.
Ladd came within hours of execution in 2003, before a federal court agreed to hear evidence about juvenile records that suggested he was mentally impaired. Those arguments have since been turned down by the courts, including by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, but his attorneys aren’t backing away from the argument.
They cite a psychiatrist’s determination that Ladd, then a 13-year-old in custody of the Texas Youth Commission, had an IQ of only 67. Courts have embraced scientific studies that consider an IQ of 70 a threshold for impairment, and the Supreme Court has barred execution of mentally impaired people.
His attorneys also say Ladd has long had difficulties with social skills and functioning on his own.
“The Texas courts insist on severely misjudging his intellectual capacity, relying on standards for gauging intelligence… that have nothing to do with science or medicine,” said Ladd’s lead attorney on the appeal, Brian Stull, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office argued that the punishment should go forward.
Assistant Attorney General Kelli Weaver told the court that his claim that he’s mentally impaired “has been repeatedly rejected and he argues neither a new factual basis nor a new legal basis on which the judgments of the state and federal courts should be questioned.”
Ladd also is part of a lawsuit that questions the “quality and viability” of Texas’ supply of its execution drug, pentobarbital. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit’s arguments, which the Texas Attorney General’s Office called “nothing more than rank speculation.” Ladd’s lawyers said they would take the suit to the Supreme Court, which the 5th Circuit said in its ruling was the best venue to decide the issue.
Ladd was an acquaintance of Garner, whose household items showed up at a Tyler pawn shop on Sept. 25, 1996, the same day firefighters discovered her body in her Tyler apartment.
According to trial testimony, Ladd exchanged stolen goods for $100 worth of crack cocaine, then returned with other items from Garner’s apartment to swap for more drugs.