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Virginia May Have Just Executed An Intellectually Disabled Man

Greensville Correctional Center, the facility where Alfredo Prieto was executed CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS/STEVE HELBER
Greensville Correctional Center, the facility where Alfredo Prieto was executed CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS/STEVE HELBER

Despite multiple attempts to prove he was intellectually disabled, and that his execution would be unconstitutional, 49-year-old Alfredo Prieto was put to death by lethal injection late Thursday evening. It was the state’s first execution in three years.

CREDIT: AP/Virginia Department of Corrections
CREDIT: AP/Virginia Department of Corrections

Prieto was sentenced to death in 2010, for the murder of a Virginia couple in the 80s. The El Salvadorian native originally sat on death row in California for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, and was linked to six additional murders in the Golden State. He was transferred from California to Virginia because authorities believed his execution was more likely to happen there.

But Prieto and his lawyers fought tooth and nail to prove that he had an intellectual disability and was sentenced to capital punishment in Virginia using an outdated system. Prosecutors said Prieto’s IQ was high enough to meet Virginia’s legal standard for execution, discounting two IQ tests that showed otherwise. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that relying on IQ tests to measure intellectual disability is “imprecise” and unconstitutional.

“This case shows how cruel and inhuman the death penalty can be,” Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Steven W. Hawkins said in a press release circulated before the execution. “Arbitrary criteria could mean the difference between life and death. This is a broken system that must be ended entirely. Prieto’s sentence must be commuted.”

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In the days leading up to his death, attorneys also tried to secure a stay on the grounds that lethal injection drugs provided by Texas were dangerous. A district judge consented on Wednesday, but the case was reassigned to U.S. District Court Judge Henry ‘Hang Um High’ Hudson, who campaigned on a death penalty platform. Hudson subsequently refused the stay.

Earlier this year, Prieto was at the center of a lawsuit disputing Virginia’s solitary confinement of death row inmates. The prisoner was held in a 71-square-foot cell for nearly six years. He had no opportunity to see the sky and the lights in his cell were never turned off. Prieto’s treatment was deemed de-humanizing and unconstitutional by a district judge in 2014 — a ruling that was overturned by a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last March. The appeals court said that Virginia could keep death row inmate in solitary for life, if the state wants.

Prieto’s last words were “get this over with.”