David Allen Raley was convicted of capital murder in 1988 after kidnapping two high school girls and killing one of them. He had taken Jeanine Grinsell and Laurie McKenna. Raley to an unoccupied San Jose mansion where he was a security guard and stabbed both of them multiple times before dumping them in a ditch. Grinsell died of her wounds but McKenna survived and testified against Raley, fingering him as her assailant.
Raley's lawyers appealed the death sentence in state courts and eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court, which they also lost.
But Raley's legal team now argues their client, now 51, is autistic and should have his death sentence commuted in favor of life without parole under a 2002 Supreme Court decision that made it unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded, deeming it cruel and unusual punishment, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
The high court's decision did not spell out a specific definition for what qualifies as mentally retarded, leaving it to state courts to sort out who among death row inmates meets that standard.
Raley's legal team faces an uphill battle, however, legal experts said. Typically, the definition of mentally retarded includes an IQ lower than 70 and an intellectual inability to distinguish right from wrong. Raley's IQ is comparable to an average person's score and autism hasn't been used as a legal challenge to the mental retardation clause.
A California Supreme Court judge ordered a special two-week hearing to determine Raley's mental state. The hearing was slated to begin Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court before Judge Linda Clark, the Mercury News said.
Prosecutors don't buy the mental retardation argument in Raley's case.
"[Raley] acted alone in committing these horrible crimes and the facts elicited at trial show evidence of premeditation, cunning and problem solving, all characteristics inconsistent with a diagnosis of intellectual disability," prosecutors wrote.