RICHMOND, Virginia — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a Virginia inmate who claims he can't be executed because he is intellectually disabled.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Alfredo Prieto failed to show that no reasonable juror would find him eligible for the death penalty.
Prieto was sentenced to death for the 1988 shooting deaths of George Washington University students Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton III. He was on California's death row for raping and killing a 15-year-old girl when a DNA sample entered into a national database in 2005 connected him to the Virginia slayings.
At issue in Prieto's appeal was last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Florida case that a rigid cutoff on IQ test scores cannot be used to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Virginia's law on determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled was virtually identical to Florida's, so Prieto claimed that the Supreme Court ruling precludes his execution.
But the appeals court found that there was ample evidence that Prieto's "adaptive functioning" — his ability to handle everyday tasks — was good enough to rule out any mental disability even though his IQ score was borderline. Expert witnesses for the defense testified that Prieto was an extremely slow learner and lacked impulse control, but psychologists testifying for the prosecution said he was well-spoken, bilingual and analytical.
"Absent some new 'smoking gun,' evidence of Prieto's adaptive functioning deficits is at best inconclusive," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote.
Cary Bowen, an attorney for Prieto, said he will ask the appeals court to reconsider. If that fails, Bowen said, he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.
Attorney General Mark Herring's office declined to comment.
Prieto is one of eight men on Virginia's death row. No executions are scheduled.