Death row inmate's latest appeal denied; execution set for April

EAST TEXAS (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Rickey Lynn Lewis, a death row inmate claiming he is mentally retarded, learned today that his most recent appeal of his death sentence was denied and that an execution date has been set.

He was granted a stay of execution in 2005. The execution date is now scheduled for April 9 of this year.
Lewis was convicted for the Sept. 17, 1990, murder of George Newman during a burglary at the victim's house. He was also found guilty of sexually assaulting Newman's common-law wife, Connie Hilton.

Judge Kent ruled in 2005 that Lewis was not mentally retarded, a claim made by his attorney. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, which ordered the trial judge to preside over the writ of habeas corpus hearing, agreed with her ruling and ordered her to set an execution date.

Lewis' appellate attorney Mike Charlton of New Mexico filed the motion for stay of execution, appealing the mental retardation ruling.

If a judge had ruled Lewis is retarded, his sentence would automatically be commuted to life in prison. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the execution of mentally retarded people.

Lewis has been on death row for close to two decades.

The first Smith County jury selected convicted Lewis and sentenced him to death. But in 1996, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the punishment back to the trial court.

In 1997, another jury again sentenced him to the death penalty, finding that he committed the murder deliberately, that there was a high probability he would be a continuing threat to society and that there were no mitigating circumstances that warranted a life sentence rather that the death penalty.

Former 241st District Judge Diane DeVasto set Lewis' execution date for Aug. 7, 2003, but Lewis' attorneys claimed he was mentally retarded.

Defense attorneys tried to prove that Lewis was wrongly sentenced to death. Mental retardation experts hired by the state testified that he has learning disabilities but is not retarded; doctors hired by the defense disagreed.

The burden of proof in a mental retardation claim is on the defense.

The three-pronged approach to diagnosing mental retardation includes below-average intellectual functioning usually denoted by an IQ score of 70 or less, manifestation of the disorder by age 18 and consideration of adaptive functioning, or how a person operates in daily life.

Judge Kent concluded that Lewis entered the home to burglarize it but was interrupted by the victims.

He shot Newman and sexually assaulted, bit and hit Ms. Hilton, threatening to kill her.

He also killed the couple's dog.


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