Convicted killer facing Texas execution seeking reprieve in appeals to US Supreme Court

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This undated handout photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Robert Ladd. Ladd, scheduled to die Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, came within nine hours of execution in 2003 for the slaying of a 38-year-old Vickie Ann Garner, when a federal appeals court halted his punishment. Lawyers then said they found juvenile records suggesting he was mentally impaired, a finding that could make him ineligible for the death penalty. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice)


HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The U.S. Supreme Court was considering appeals intended to prevent the execution Thursday of a convicted killer who strangled a woman in Texas and beat her with a hammer before setting her body on fire nearly two decades ago.

Attorneys for Robert Ladd argued that he's ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally disabled. He also has a second separate appeal before the court that questioned the potency of pentobarbital, a sedative used in Texas executions.

Ladd, 57, would be the second Texas inmate executed this year in the nation's most active death penalty state.

Ladd came within hours of lethal injection in 2003 before a federal court agreed to hear evidence about juvenile records that suggested he was mentally impaired. That appeal was denied and the Supreme Court last year turned down a review of Ladd's case. His attorneys renewed similar arguments as his execution date approached.

"Ladd's deficits are well documented, debilitating and significant," Brian Stull, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, told the high court.

Kelli Weaver, a Texas attorney general, reminded the justices in a filing that "each court that has reviewed Ladd's claim has determined that Ladd is not intellectually disabled."

Ladd's lawyers cited a psychiatrist's determination in 1970 that Ladd, then a 13-year-old in custody of the Texas Youth Commission, had an IQ of 67. Courts have embraced scientific studies that consider an IQ of 70 a threshold for impairment. The inmate's attorneys also contended he long has had difficulties with social skills and functioning on his own.

In the other appeal, Ladd questioned the "quality and viability" of Texas' supply of its execution drug, pentobarbital. The Texas Attorney General's Office called the challenge, which also went to the Supreme Court on Thursday, "nothing more than rank speculation."

When he was arrested in 1996 for the slaying of 38-year-old Vicki Ann Garner, of Tyler, Ladd had been on parole for about four years after serving about a third of a 40-year prison term for the murder of a Dallas woman and her two children. He pleaded guilty to those three murders.

David Dobbs, a former Smith County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Ladd in Garner's slaying, said Ladd's parole was "just ridiculous."

The Dallas and Tyler slayings were similar in that each woman was set on fire. Garner, described as mildly mentally impaired, and Ladd both worked at a Tyler mental health rehabilitation center.

Household items belonging to Garner showed up at a pawn shop on Sept. 25, 1996, the same day firefighters discovered her body at her apartment in Tyler.

According to trial testimony, Ladd swapped the stolen goods to purchase crack cocaine. DNA evidence tied him to sexual contact with Garner, his fingerprint was found on a microwave oven and his palm print was on a kitchen cabinet.

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