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Florida Supreme Court denies appeal from Pasco man on death row

The Florida Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a Pasco killer Thursday, just days before he is set to be executed.

John Ruthell Henry, who has been on death row for 27 years, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday. His attorney filed a last-minute appeal on the grounds that Henry, 63, is intellectually disabled. The motion came in response to a recent decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying Florida has been misinterpreting the standard for calling a person mentally disabled. The state has considered anyone with an IQ of 70 or below mentally disabled but did not consider other potential evidence of disability as well as the margin of error in IQ tests, the court said.

Under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court has said mentally disabled people cannot be executed.

Defense attorney Baya Harrison requested at least a hearing to determine Henry's mental capacity and was denied by a lower court. The Florida Supreme Court denied his appeal as well.

Henry is not entitled to a hearing, the court wrote, because intellectual disability means "significantly subaverage general functioning." Henry could drive a car and form relationships, and also communicated well, the court wrote, especially when repeatedly asking the court for new lawyers.

Henry was convicted of three killings. He stabbed his girlfriend, 28-year-old Patricia Roddy, 20 times in 1976 while her children were in the back seat of her car. He pleaded to second-degree murder and served a little over seven years. When he got out, he married Suzanne Henry. He killed her in December 1985 in Zephyrhills, stabbing her after an argument while her son 5-year-old son, Eugene Christian, was nearby. He killed the boy later that day with the same knife and dumped him in a field.

He was sentenced to death for Suzanne Henry's murder.

Harrison called Thursday's decision a "disappointing setback." He's scrambling to prepare one final appeal at the federal level.

"We were given a fair hearing and we appreciate that," Harrison said. "This would be the absolutely last thing we can do. I would say we are very cautiously hopeful."

Jon Silman can be reached at jsilman@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

Florida Supreme Court denies appeal from Pasco man on death row 06/12/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 9:35pm]
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