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Virginia inmate asks court to toss death sentence

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A judge said Wednesday that he will rule in about three weeks on a Virginia death row inmate's claim that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in another case precludes his execution.

Alfredo R. Prieto's lawyer, Miriam Airington, said she believes the case is the first in the nation to test whether the May 27 ruling in a Florida capital punishment case can be applied retroactively to a narrow category of other inmates awaiting execution. After an hour-long hearing, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson said he wanted to take time to carefully consider the issue.

Prieto was on California's death row for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when a DNA sample connected him to the 1988 slayings of George Washington University students Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton III in Reston. He also was sentenced to death for the Virginia crimes.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that a rigid cutoff on IQ test scores cannot be used to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Prieto, whose lawyers claimed he was intellectually disabled during the sentencing phase of his trial, claims he cannot be executed because Virginia's law is nearly identical to the statute at issue in the Florida case. Both establish an IQ score of 70 as the intellectual disability threshold.

Airington said Prieto may be the only inmate — or certainly one of only a few — already sentenced to death and potentially affected by the Hall v. Florida ruling.

"Mr. Prieto, we believe, falls into a class of people who under Hall are not eligible for the death penalty," Airington told Hudson. "It goes to the fundamental fairness of sentencing."

Alice Armstrong of the Virginia attorney general's office argued that the Hall decision should not be applied retroactively because it only involved procedural rules for enforcing the landmark 2002 ruling that barred the death penalty for mentally disabled inmates.

She also said that, unlike the Florida defendant, Prieto was allowed to present evidence of "adaptive behavior" along with IQ test scores. Experts for the state and Prieto sharply disagreed at sentencing on whether his management of routine tasks suggested he was mentally disabled.

"What actually happened makes clear there is no prejudice to Mr. Prieto in this case," Armstrong said.

She said the notion that a new hearing would conclude that Prieto is ineligible for the death penalty is "grossly speculative."

Airington acknowledged that Virginia defendants claiming intellectual disability can present evidence of adaptive behavior "but they still have to overcome the IQ test."

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