United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY ON INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY
William T. Lawrence, Senior Judge
cause is before the Court to determine whether Bruce Webster
is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. For the
Court to grant the relief that Webster seeks, Webster must
show by a preponderance of the evidence that he is
intellectually disabled and thus categorically ineligible for
the death penalty. The parties have fully briefed the
relevant issues and presented evidence at a hearing. The
Court, being duly advised, finds that Webster has satisfied
his burden of proving his intellectual disability by a
preponderance of the evidence and is thus ineligible for the
November 4, 1994, Bruce Webster was indicted in the United
States District Court for the Northern District of Texas on
six counts, including kidnapping in which a death occurred in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201(a)(1) and (2).
Webster was convicted and was sentenced to death on June 20,
1996. United States v. Webster, 162 F.3d 308 (5th
filed his initial Motion to Vacate Conviction and Sentence
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on September 29, 2000. This
motion was subsequently amended and was denied in full on
September 20, 2003. Webster v. United States, No.
4:00-CV-1646, 2003 WL 23109787 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2003).
The Fifth Circuit rejected Webster's motion for relief
under section 2255, United States v. Webster, 421
F.3d 308 (5th Cir. 2005), and his application for an order
authorizing a successive § 2255 proceeding, In re
Webster, 605 F.3d 256 (5th Cir. 2010).
April 6, 2012, Webster filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in this Court,
challenging his death sentence based on what he argued was
previously unavailable evidence-specifically, evidence from
Social Security records-that establishes he is intellectually
disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty under
Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) and Hall
v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014). On November 13, 2013,
this Court issued an order denying that petition. The Seventh
Circuit affirmed this Court's ruling on August 1, 2014.
Webster v. Caraway, 761 F.3d 764 (7th Cir. 2014).
However, en banc review was granted, and the en banc court
reversed this Court's decision and remanded for further
proceedings. Webster v. Daniels, 784 F.3d 1123 (7th
Cir. 2015) (en banc). This Court held a hearing in June 2018
pursuant to the Seventh's Circuit directive and found
that the Social Security records at issue were unavailable to
Webster and his counsel at the time of trial despite trial
counsel's due diligence.
Seventh Circuit provided the following summary of the Social
Security records' contents:
The newly produced records, which Webster's current
lawyers received on February 9, 2009, showed that Webster
applied for Social Security benefits based on a sinus
condition when he was 20 years old, approximately a year
before the crime. The agency's attention was evidently
quickly redirected to Webster's mental capacity. Two
psychologists and one physician examined him. On December 22,
1993, Dr. Charles Spellman, a psychologist, evaluated him for
the purpose of ascertaining his eligibility for Social
Security benefits. He noted that “[i]deation was sparse
and this appeared to be more of a function of his lower
cognitive ability than of any mental illness.” Dr.
Spellman also observed that Webster's intellectual
functioning was quite limited: he could not register three
objects (meaning that he could not remember three objects a
short time after they were shown to him); he could not do
simple calculations; and he did not know what common sayings
meant. With respect to adaptive functioning, Dr. Spellman
stated that Webster lived with his mother; that he watched
television, listened to the radio, and went walking; that he
did no chores around the house; and that he was idle both in
the house and on the streets. Taking into account both his
estimate that Webster's I.Q. was 69 or lower and his
assessment of adaptive functioning, Dr. Spellman concluded
that Webster was mentally retarded and antisocial. He found
no evidence of exaggeration or malingering.
A few months earlier, in October 1993, Dr. Edward Hackett
conducted a full-scale WAIS I.Q. test on Webster. He came up
with a verbal I.Q. of 71, a performance I.Q. of 49, and a
full-scale I.Q. of 59. He evaluated Webster as “mildly
retarded, but . . . also antisocial.” Pertinent to the
central question of adaptive functioning, Dr. Hackett noted
in a later report that “[Webster] was viewed as a
somewhat mild[ly] retarded con man, but very street wise. . .
. [H]e could not be functional in a community setting. . . .
He would also not function well in the work place.” Dr.
Hackett did not believe that Webster was capable of managing
his own benefits. He found Webster's behavior somewhat
bizarre. Finally, he commented that on the I.Q. tests,
Webster's performance was estimated to be lower than his
verbal score, and that some organic function might be
The last professional to examine Webster in conjunction with
the 1993 Social Security application was Dr. C.M.
Rittelmeyer, a physician. Dr. Rittelmeyer found Webster's
physical health to be fine, but he also had this to say:
“Mental retardation. Flat feet. Chronic sinus problems
and allergies by history.”
The Social Security records included an intriguing letter
that strongly suggested that Webster in fact had been in
special education classes. It was dated November 8, 1993, and
had been written by Lou Jackson, the Special Education
Supervisor for the school system Webster had attended, Watson
Chapel Schools. Jackson's letter explained that
Webster's special education records had been destroyed in
1988, after the family did not respond to a letter
“telling them they could have the records if they
The Social Security records also provide some direct evidence
about Webster's abilities. The form Webster completed,
for example, is rife with errors in syntax, spelling,
punctuation, grammar, and thought. In response to a question
asking him to describe his pain or other symptoms, Webster
wrote “it causEs mE to gEt up sEt Easily
hEadhurtsdiffiErnt of brEdth.” When asked about the
side effects of his medication, he wrote “Is lEEp
bEttEr.” When asked about his usual daily activities,
Webster wrote (consistently with the comments from his
teacher and employer) “I slEEps look at.
cartoon.” He reported that he “ain't got no
chang” in his condition since its onset.
Webster, 784 F.3d at 1133-34.
undersigned held a five-day hearing in April 2019 on the
issue of whether Webster is intellectually disabled and thus
constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty. The Court
heard live testimony from the following witnesses: Dr. Mark
Tassé; Dr. Daniel J. Reschly; Dr. John Fabian; Dr.
Robert Denney; Dr. Erin Conner; John S. Edwards, III; and
Phil Woolston. The Court also received the deposition
testimony of Dr. Charles Spellman (video and transcript); Dr.
Jacqueline Blessinger (transcript); and Larry Moore (video
and transcript). Each party also introduced numerous
DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA FOR INTELLECTUAL
determining whether Webster is intellectually disabled, the
Court will rely on the clinical definitions of intellectual
disability promulgated by the American Association on
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
(“AAIDD”) and the American Psychiatric
Association (“APA”) manuals: (1) AAIDD,
Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and
Systems of Supports (11th ed. 2010) (“AAIDD-11”);
and (2) APA, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (5th ed. 2013) (“DSM-5”). See Moore
v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039, 1045 (2017) (relying on
AAIDD-11 and DSM-5).
Supreme Court has explained,
the generally accepted, uncontroversial
intellectual-disability diagnostic definition . . .
identifies three core elements: (1) intellectual-functioning
deficits (indicated by an IQ score approximately two standard
deviations below the mean- i.e., a score of roughly
70-adjusted for the standard error of measurement); (2)
adaptive deficits (the inability to learn basic skills and
adjust behavior to changing circumstances); and (3) the onset
of these deficits while still a minor.
Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1045. Each of these three prongs
must be met for a person to be intellectually
defines intellectual disability as “a disorder with
onset during the developmental period that includes both
intellectual and adaptive functioning deficits in conceptual,
social, and practical domains.” DSM-5 at 33. The
following three criteria must be met before an individual may
receive a diagnosis of intellectual disability:
A. Deficits in intellectual functions, such as reasoning,
problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment,
academic learning, and learning from experience, confirmed by
both clinical assessment and individualized, standardized
B. Deficits in adaptive functioning that result in failure to
meet developmental and sociocultural standards for personal
independence and social responsibility. Without ongoing
support, the adaptive deficits limit functioning in one or
more activities of daily life, such as communication, social
participation, and independent living, across multiple
environments, such as home, school, work, and community.
C. Onset of intellectual and adaptive deficits during the
AAIDD provides a similar explanation, stating that
intellectual disability is “characterized by
significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and
in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and
practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before
age 18.” AAIDD-11 at 6. Deficits in intellectual
functioning are established by “an IQ score that is
approximately two standard deviations below the mean,
considering the standard error of measurement for the
specific assessment instruments used and the instruments'
strengths and limitations.” Id. at 27.
Deficits in adaptive functioning are measured by:
performance on a standardized measure of adaptive behavior
that is normed on the general population including people
with and without [intellectual disability] that is
approximately two standard deviations below the mean of
either (a) one of the following three types of adaptive
behavior: conceptual, social, and practical or (b) an overall
score on a standardized measure of conceptual, social, and
first prong requires an assessment of an individual's
intellectual functions that “involve reasoning, problem
solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, learning from
instruction and experience, and practical
understanding.” DSM-5 at 37. Intellectual functioning
is typically measured by intelligence quotient (IQ) tests.
Id. The APA describes this prong, in relevant part,
Intellectual functioning is typically measured with
individually administered and psychometrically valid,
comprehensive, culturally appropriate, psychometrically sound
tests of intelligence. Individuals with intellectual
disability have scores of approximately two standard
deviations or more below the population mean, including a
margin for measurement error (generally points). On tests
with a standard deviation of 15 and a mean of 100, this
involves a score of 65-75 (70 ± 5). Clinical training
and judgment are required to interpret test results and
assess intellectual performance.
DSM-5 at 37. The AAIDD Manual provides:
The “significant limitations in intellectual
functioning” criterion for a diagnosis of intellectual
disability is an IQ score that is approximately two standard
deviations below the mean, considering the standard error of
measurement for the specific instruments used and the
instruments' strengths and limitations.
AAIDD-11 at 31.
second prong involves an assessment of an individual's
adaptive functioning to determine whether “adaptive
deficits limit functioning in one or more activities of daily
life, such as communication, social participation, and
independent living, across multiple environments, such as
home, school, work, and community.” DSM-5 at 33. The
APA indicates that adaptive functioning involves adaptive
reasoning in three broad domains:
The conceptual (academic) domain involves competence
in memory, language, reading, writing, math reasoning,
acquisition of practical knowledge, problem solving, and
judgment in novel situations, among others. The social
domain involves awareness of others' thoughts,
feelings, and experiences; empathy; interpersonal
communication skills; friendship abilities; and social
judgment, among others. The practical domain
involves learning and self-management across life settings,
including personal care, job ...