Mental confusion

I'm hooked on your new publication and wish you the greatest success. I'm disappointed, though, with Mariane Matera's essay [ “No excuse,” 3/07/02]. 

Matera seriously confuses two fundamentally different concepts: mental retardation– a mitigating factor which may (should, in my view) weigh against imposition of the death penalty– and mental illness, which can totally relieve a person of criminal responsibility (resulting in their indefinite, but usually prolonged, commitment to a secure mental hospital). At one point, she even refers to the classic insanity test, inability to distinguish right from wrong, which has nothing to do with mental retardation. The only valid point she makes, that experts may differ about who really is mentally retarded, is mostly lost in the confusion.

Jim Hingeley