Mentally Impaired Texas Inmate’s Sentence Reduced to Life

A Texas death row inmate determined to be mentally impaired will now be spared from capital punishment after a state judge resentenced him to life in prison Tuesday for the abduction and killing of a woman 26 years ago.

The new sentence for Robert James Campbell came after prosecutors and the inmate’s attorneys agreed he should not be executed because of his mental impairment. Campbell will be eligible for parole, but prosecutors have promised to oppose that.

“In unison with his victims and their families, we will do everything we can to see that he serves every second of his life sentence,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said.

The 44-year-old Campbell was 18 in January 1991 and already on parole after serving four months of a five-year sentence for robbery when authorities say he abducted 20-year-old Houston bank teller Alexandra Rendon from a gas station. She was taken to a desolate area, raped and fatally shot. Her body wasn’t found until 12 days later.

The family of Rendon, who had been making marriage plans, eventually buried her wearing a wedding dress she had recently bought.

Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole was the only other sentencing choice for the Harris County jury that convicted Campbell of capital murder in 1992. The jurors decided he should be put to death. Life without parole did not become a sentencing option in Texas capital cases until September 2005.

An accomplice, Leroy Lewis, received 35 years in prison after being convicted of murder and kidnapping. He was paroled in 2012.

Campbell was within three hours of being executed in 2014 when a federal appeals court stopped the punishment so claims of his mental impairment could be investigated. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled people with mental impairment are ineligible for execution.

The Texas attorney general’s office and Campbell’s attorneys submitted a joint recommendation to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison, saying last month evidence supported a finding that Campbell is intellectually disabled and “falls within the class of offenders the Supreme Court … found ‘categorically excluded from execution.'”

A psychologist selected by prosecutors said school and medical records, tests showing Campbell has a low IQ and other documents all pointed to a diagnosis of “mild intellectual disability.” A test from a defense neuropsychologist put Campbell’s IQ at 69. Courts generally have used an IQ of 70 as the threshold for mental impairment.

Campbell said in court Tuesday that he would like to offer his “sincerest apology” to the victim’s family.

Noe Santana, a cousin of Rendon who spoke in court, called Campbell the “epitome of evil” and said any possibility he could be released “absolutely is the reason people lock their doors at night.”

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