The HooK  

No excuse: Ignorance doesn't equal innocence
By Mariane Matera

What is really retarded here is the Supreme Court using Daryl Atkins as their test case to determine whether mentally retarded criminals should be executed.

You will never find a unanimous opinion in the psychiatric community, and there isn't one here, but one person has tested Atkins and come up with a low IQ score of 59. For this crucial case, 59 IQ is considered the truth about Daryl Atkins. With that score, he is mentally retarded.

Well, is he?

In 1996, Atkins and an accomplice hijacked a vehicle and its driver outside a 7-Eleven in Hampton, stole his money, drove him to an ATM-- where the trio was photographed by bank cameras-- to get more money, then drove their victim to a remote location, dumped him out, and shot him 18 times.

Atkins has been identified as the shooter as well as the one who initially signaled the victim, a 21-year-old airman named Eric Nesbitt, to stop. Atkins had 25 prior felony convictions.

Atkins seems like a smart guy to me. He has the mental capacity to formulate a plan and put it into motion. He knows that a good place to find people making brief stops is a 7-Eleven. He knows how to get people's attention and distract them. He knows how to threaten people. He knows how to load and handle a gun. He knows how ATM machines work, and he even knows that you don't necessarily have to go to one belonging to your bank. Any ATM machine will dispense money to any cardholder. He knows to take his victim to a remote area rather than push him out of the car where people can see. And he knows how to kill.

When you think of mentally retarded people who truly don't know the difference between right and wrong, you think of people who accidentally kill a kitten by hugging it too hard. If they kill someone, it's because they don't understand their actions result in injury. When they discover the error of their ways, they are often surprised and dismayed. The result was clearly not their intention.

I don't see how that can possibly apply to Atkins. Firing 18 shots into a body shows a clear intention to ensure that body doesn't report you to the police and pick you out of a line-up. Atkins knew there would be consequences to being identified, and when you understand that there are consequences, you clearly understand there is a difference between right and wrong.

Atkins learned all the skills he wanted or needed to accomplish his goals. To me, that is adequate intelligence.

I suspect that is all the intelligence I myself have. I've never taken an IQ test. At least, no one has ever told me what my score is, but I don't think it's particularly high. Looking over sample tests on the Internet, they are the same fearsome, inexplicable questions I have always hated. Here's a series of seemingly random numbers. How are they related? Here's a bunch of squiggles. Which one is not like the others? Or what is the spatial relationship between two shapes?

What the hell is a spatial relationship?

How many different ways can two people be seated in four chairs so there's always at least one empty chair between them? Or if a fish has a head nine inches long, and the tail is equal to the size of the head plus one half the size of the body, and the body is the size of the head plus the tail, how long is this fish?

Man, how much do I not care? I still haven't memorized the seven and eight times tables-- they're just as much a bitch now as they were when I was eight. Am I mentally retarded?

After 15 questions of a sample IQ test on the Internet, I threw in the towel, too exhausted to keep trying to figure it out. I imagine that if I were a prisoner and didn't want to think about fish heads and spatial relationships but was being forced to take an IQ test, I might guess my way through it just to get it over with. And if my life depended on testing poorly, why... isn't it Cuckoo's Nest time? Give me some square pegs, and I'll try to jam them into round holes all day if it's going to save me from the electric chair. Here's a true IQ test: which is better, Big Bad Nurse or Fatal Injection?

But when I clicked off the Internet test, a hidden pop-up screen had another question on it, promising a prize if I knew who is the oldest Brady child. Not only do I know who the Bradys are, I know it's Greg. Am I a genius?

No. Just like Daryl Atkins, I have learned and retained what I need to know or want to know to get what I want out of life.

A radio show has a weekly Moron's Bowl in which the emcee calls up random people and asks questions. Recently, not one of a dozen people knew which state is farthest north, West Virginia or North Carolina? No one knew the names of the planets on either side of Earth. No one could identify Dick Cheney. Do you think they're going to know how long the fish is? No. IQ test them, and their head is just going to spin around, like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. (About that they probably do know.)

But none of them fired 18 shots into Eric Nesbitt.

There is a very clear difference between the truly mentally retarded and functioning ignorance. We all know what we know, and it's different for each of us. It shouldn't be the determining factor of whether we are punished for what we do with the things we do know.

© Copyright 2002 The HooK.   Last update: 03.07.2002; 8:01:30 PM.