Election Section

N.C. death row inmate found to be retarded, given life terms

By Emery Dalesio, The Associated Press
Saturday December 15, 2001

RALEIGH, N.C. — A death row inmate who is said to have the mind of a first-grader became the first person to have his sentence reduced under a new North Carolina law barring execution of the mentally retarded. 

Superior Court Judge B. Craig Ellis declared Sherman Elwood Skipper to be retarded and reduced his sentence to two life terms Wednesday. 

Skipper, 59, was convicted in the 1990 murders of his girlfriend and her grandson. 

He was the first death row inmate to challenge his sentence under the new law, approved this year. 

To be declared retarded under the law, a prisoner must have an IQ below 70 and show an inability to adapt to society before age 18. 

Both sides agreed Skipper’s IQ tested at 69.  

A hearing was held before Ellis last month on whether Skipper met the other conditions. 

“The testimony clearly showed that our client had the mind of a first-grader,” said defense attorney Gretchen Engel. 

District Attorney Rex Gore had argued that alcohol was the primary reason for Skipper’s problems with the law.