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Man with reading age of nine-year-old to be executed in Georgia tonight

47-year-old Kenneth Fults pleaded guilty in 1997 to killing his neighbour.

GEORGIA IS PREPARING to execute a death row inmate who shot a woman to death during a burglary in 1996 as his lawyers ask the US Supreme Court to consider arguments that a juror who imposed the sentence was motivated by racial bias.

Kenneth Fults is scheduled to die by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at 7pm tonight (1am Irish time) at the state prison in Jackson.

The 47-year-old inmate pleaded guilty in 1997 to killing his neighbour, 19-year-old Cathy Bounds, and a jury sentenced him to death.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles held a clemency hearing for Fults yesterday but declined to grant him clemency. The parole board is the only entity that can commute a death sentence in Georgia.

Killing

Prosecutors have said Fults killed Bounds during a weeklong crime spree that started when he stole two guns during burglaries. After trying unsuccessfully to kill his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend with one of the stolen guns, Fults broke into the trailer next to his, where Bounds lived with her boyfriend.

Bounds, who was home alone, pleaded for her life and offered him the rings on her fingers, but Fults forced her into the bedroom, wrapped electrical tape around her head, put her face-down on the bed, put a pillow over her head and shot her five times in the back of the head, prosecutors said.

Fults’ lawyers said in a clemency petition that their client had an extremely tough childhood characterised by abuse and neglect and an intellectual disability that keeps him from acting appropriately.

“Mr. Fults, the man, committed a terrible, tragic act when he killed Cathy Bounds,” they wrote.

But before the man existed, there was an innocent, vulnerable child in his place. And that child, Kenny, fell through the cracks.

Flaws in sentencing

They also pointed out what they said were flaws in his sentencing trial, including a juror they said was motivated by racial bias and a defence lawyer who fell asleep and failed to provide an adequate defence.

In their filing with the Supreme Court, Fults’ lawyers argue his death sentence is unconstitutional because one of the jurors who imposed it was motivated by racial prejudice.

During jury selection for Fults’ trial in 1997, juror Thomas Buffington, who was white, told the judge and lawyers on both sides that he felt no racial prejudice.

An investigator working with Fults’ lawyers eight years later spoke to Buffington about his jury service. Buffington, who was 79 at the time of the interview and has since died, twice used a racial slur when talking about Fults, who is black.

“Once he pled guilty, I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that’s what that (N-word) deserved,” Buffington said, according to the signed, 12 April, 2005 affidavit in the court record.

The Telegraph’s Harriet Alexander, who is based in New York, reported yesterday that Fults has the reading age of a nine-year-old and his IQ puts him in the bottom 3% of the population.

‘Unfairly imposed’

State and federal courts have consistently declined to consider Fults’ argument that his sentence was unfairly imposed because of racial bias, mostly for procedural reasons that have to do with when the argument was first raised. The US Supreme court in October declined to take up the issue on appeal.

Now Fults’ lawyers are asking the high court to take the case directly, not as an appeal. They argue it is very similar to another case the court agreed last week to hear.

The state argued in a court filing yesterday that this case does not demonstrate the “exceptional circumstances” necessary for the Supreme Court to take it on directly.

Fults would be the fourth man executed in Georgia this year.

Another man, Daniel Lucas, is scheduled to die on 27 April.

Associated Press with reporting from Daragh Brophy. 

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