Walter Bell spent 29 years on death row before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced his sentence to life on the basis that he was intellectually disabled. At the time, Walter was Texas’s longest-serving death row prisoner and one of the longest-serving in the country.
Volunteer attorneys from Graves Daugherty Hearon & Moody conducted a lengthy investigation, discovering school records that dated back to 1963. Those records showed Walter’s IQ in the mid-50s, falling well below the generally accepted threshold for intellectual disability. He was in special education classes starting in the second grade. As an adult, Walter failed boot camp multiple times and was given an administrative discharge from the Marines. A forensic psychologist testified that Walter’s behavior following the crime also supported a finding of intellectual disability. For example, he called a cab from the scene of the crime without knowing the address. He also clumsily made a fake identification card to use when he tried to cash checks stolen from the victims.
The jury in Walter’s initial trial was prevented from hearing evidence of his intellectual disability. Thanks to the work of volunteer counsel, the courts were finally able to consider this evidence and, after doing so, they concluded that Walter was ineligible for execution. After spending nearly three decades on death row, Walter’s sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.