Imminent execution based on faulty theory
Quintin Phillippe Jones faces execution on 19 May 2021. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 for the 1999 murder of an 83-year-old woman, his great aunt, Berthena Bryant, in Tarrant County, Texas. The death occurred during a botched robbery attempt when his great aunt refused to continue lending him money to support his drug use.
In the sentencing phase of his trial, the State largely relied on the testimony of a psychologist who diagnosed Jones as a “psychopath” and equated “psychopathy” to a propensity for future dangerousness to the jury. His diagnosis was based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R), a 20-item checklist/rating scale that was intended to be used by trained professionals to measure the personality disorder of psychopathy. Since his trial in 2001, research on psychological assessments and the prediction of human behavior has found that the PCL-R checklist is unreliable, unscientific, and misleading in capital cases because the PCL-R/Hare Checklist cannot reliably predict future behavior in prison, and this has been recognized by at least one U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
In its 2005 ruling prohibiting the death penalty against anyone who was under 18 at the time of the crime, the U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons recognized the immaturity, impulsiveness, and poor judgment associated with youth, as well as the susceptibility of young people to “outside pressures, including peer pressure”. The Court also acknowledged that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18.
Since then, scientific research has continued to show that brains do not fully mature until an individual reaches their early-to-mid-twenties, making it impossible to predict whether a barely 20-year-old will be dangerous in the future.
Ineffective assistance of counsel prevented the timely filing of appeals leading to a substantive review of issues related to his conviction. Quintin Jones’ first postconviction attorney failed to submit a state application by the deadline. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) appointed a second attorney and extended the deadline to file the application. However, that attorney also failed to file a timely application, submitting the paperwork more than a month late. The application was ultimately denied by the TCCA, which deemed that the grounds should have been either brought up on direct appeal, were procedurally barred, or lacked sufficient evidence to support relief. The same attorney was appointed to handle the federal habeas application, over Quintin Jones’ objections and filed the federal petition nearly five months late. The State filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the petition was untimely, which the federal court granted having received no reply from Quintin Jones’ attorney. The federal court appointed new attorneys for Quintin Jones. However, they were unable to secure meaningful appellate review of the case or funding for the investigation that the prior attorneys failed to perform.
Quintin Jones has accepted full responsibility for his crime and is filled with deep remorse. In fact, Berthena Bryant’s lone surviving sibling, also Quintin Jones’ great aunt, provided a declaration for Quintin’s appeal for clemency. She attests to his remorse and changed demeanour and pleads with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to allow him to spend the rest of his life in prison. Quintin’s twin brother has provided a similar declaration, spelling out their troubled childhood, attesting to Quintin’s transformation in prison and pleading for clemency to prevent further revictimization of the family by executing his brother.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a violation of human rights. As of 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice. The US has executed 1532 people since 1976, and the State of Texas has accounted for 576 of those executions.