McGuireWoods Pro Bono Team Secures Sentencing Change for Intellectually Disabled Death Row Inmate

June 16, 2016

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals changed the death sentence of Jose Noey Martinez to life in prison on Wednesday, affirming a trial court ruling that Martinez is intellectually disabled and thus constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.

McGuireWoods lawyers Marshall Beil and Tom Farrell provided pro bono representation for Martinez during his second application for a writ of habeas corpus. The American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project referred the case to McGuireWoods in 2008.

Martinez spent nearly two decades on death row for his 1996 conviction for rape and two counts of murder in Hidalgo County, Texas. Farrell and Beil, working with investigators and experts engaged by the firm, gathered evidence of Martinez’s diminished mental capacity and compiled a detailed social history of his childhood and education. In a November 2015 hearing before Hidalgo County District Judge Noe Gonzalez, Farrell and Beil submitted an extensive report from a leading forensic psychologist diagnosing Martinez as intellectually disabled. The district attorney’s expert agreed with the diagnosis. Judge Gonzalez ruled that the evidence “established beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Martinez is a person with intellectual disability,” making Martinez ineligible for a death sentence.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has final authority on criminal matters in the state, affirmed the trial court’s ruling on Wednesday and changed Martinez’s death sentence to life in prison.

“We have worked on this constitutional challenge for Mr. Martinez for nearly a decade and we are pleased that the Court of Criminal Appeals granted relief on our habeas petition,” said Beil, a counsel in the firm’s New York office.

“This was a difficult case for everyone. To us, Mr. Martinez is clearly intellectually disabled, but the challenge was to persuade the court to agree. We were here to protect the process and ensure that the law was properly applied,” said Farrell, McGuireWoods’ Houston office managing partner.