HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Supporters of the death penalty announced legislation that would bar capital punishment for defendants found to have mental retardation.
The legislation, announced at a news conference Monday by Sen. Lisa M. Boscola, D-Northampton, and state Attorney General Mike Fisher, would allow a jury to determine if a murder defendant has mental retardation during the sentencing phase of a trial.
The bill stands in contrast to legislation sponsored by Sen. Edward W. Helfrick, R-Northumberland, and backed by mental health and church groups, that calls for the question of whether a person has mental retardation to be decided before trial.
Fisher called the Boscola legislation, which will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Thomas P. Gannon, R-Delaware, "vitally necessary to preserve the integrity of Pennsylvania's death penalty statute" in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that overturned the death penalty in a case where the defendant has mental retardation.
Backers of the bill said it would prevent defendants who are not mentally retarded from posing as someone who is in order to avoid the death penalty.
"We owe something to the families and the victims of these crimes," said M.L. "Skip" Ebert, the Cumberland County district attorney. "We can't let mental retardation be a dodge to avoid just punishment."
The Boscola legislation also sets a definition for mental retardation, including requirements of an IQ of 70 or below and a diagnosis of the condition from early childhood.
The legislation also requires that defendants demonstrate an inability to appreciate the criminality of their conduct or be unable to conform their conduct to legal requirements.