Inmate charged with capital murder undergoes mental testing
by Elsie Hodnett
Apr 10, 2012 | 3496 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ASHVILLE – Witnesses gave expert testimony Monday at the Atkins hearing for a St. Clair Correctional Facility inmate charged with two counts of capital murder.

Three witnesses testified before St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Phil Seay regarding the mental status of Taurus Carroll, 34, and additional testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today.

Carroll is charged with the Sept. 14, 2009, capital murder of Michael Turner, 24, who was serving a 3-year sentence from Montgomery County for robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor said any criminal defendant in Alabama who alleges they are mentally retarded must have an Atkins hearing to determine whether or not they are eligible for the death penalty.

Minor said the Code of Alabama defines mental retardation as “a person with significant sub-average general intellectual functioning resulting in or associated with concurrent impairments in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period.”

Minor said to meet that definition, the defendant first must show significant sub-average intellectual functioning—an IQ of 70 or below. Second, the defendant must show significant or substantial deficits in adaptive behavior. Third, those problems must have manifested themselves during the developmental period, before age 18. In order to be classified as mentally retarded under Atkins in Alabama, all three of those criteria must be met.

Minor said an individual found by the court to be mentally retarded cannot receive a sentence of death under U.S. and Alabama law.

Susan Wardell, a mitigation specialist, testified as an expert about the social history she compiled based on records and interviews with Carroll and members of his family.

“I met with Taurus Carroll for five hours face-to-face,” she said. “I interviewed nine family members, all older, many who lived with him and were able to provide a view of Taurus from an adult standpoint.”

Wardell said she learned from Carroll that he had great difficulty in school, that his mother was an alcoholic who drank while she was pregnant with him, that he grew up without a father figure and that he was abused.

“Any of these risk factors in a person’s life, none of which he has control over, create a toxic environment,” she said.

Wardell said adaptive behavior is the activities of daily living, whether you have the skills to care for yourself, such as cooking a meal or figuring out which bus to take to reach a destination.

Wardell testified she believes Carroll has significant deficit in adaptive functioning behavior, and that it manifested prior to age 18.

Minor asked Wardell if she did not want to see Carroll receive the death penalty.

“No, I don’t want to see him get the death penalty, but I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I do this so the jury can know about the whole person.”

Wardell testified Carroll could show goal-oriented behavior, but that based on testimony of family members he was always a follower and never a leader.

She said her research and interviews were indicative of someone who has mild mental retardation.

Dr. Robert Shaffer, a clinical psychologist who testified as an expert in clinical psychology, said Carroll’s recent IQ test resulted in an IQ of 71 and that a 70-75 range is the maximum range eligible to qualify for Atkins due to a five-point margin of error with the test.

Shaffer testified he performed a number of neuropsychological tests on Carroll, but did not reissue an IQ test due to the practice effect where individuals score better every time they take a test.

Shaffer testified that the Flynn effect, which accounts for the gradual increase in average intelligence in the general population of about 0.3 IQ points per year after a test is standardized, would decrease Carroll’s IQ test score by 1.5 points, because Carroll took the IQ test five years after it was standardized.

“An IQ score of 69.5 gives the true measurement of comparison,” he said.

Shaffer testified that in his opinion, Carroll consistently falls in the range of mildly mentally retarded and that it manifested prior to age 18.

Defense attorneys Dennis Rushing and Don Hamlin rested their case, and the state called its first witness, Dr. Susan Ford, director of Psychological & Behavioral Services for the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

Ford, who testified as an expert on mental retardation, said she administered an oral test that differs from an IQ test in that the comparison group for the oral test is people who have mental retardation.

“The average scores of this test are not average of the general population,” she said.

Ford said if a person scores average on the test, it indicates that person is mentally retarded.

“In the 10 domains (each of which is scored either extremely low, below average, average, above average or superior), he scored superior in five and above average in five,” she said. “No scores warrant a mental retardation classification.”

Ford said during the test, she asked Carroll follow-up questions to verify the levels of abilities he claimed to have.

“He held a job in the prison kitchen or bakery,” she said. “He used a big mixer in the kitchen and explained how to turn it on and what ingredients he used to make biscuits. A lot of times people won’t lie, but they will feel they can do more than they really can. I wanted to make sure I didn’t ask him just yes or no questions.”

Ford testified most mentally retarded people she knew would be unable to pass a GED, which Carroll failed the first time and passed the second time.

“A mentally retarded person might pass some parts of it (the GED) orally, but it requires a higher learning to pass the whole test,” she said.

Ford said although Carroll indicated he was in learning disability reading classes in school, he attended regular classes in math.

“Mentally retarded people tend to function equally across the board,” she said. “But someone with a learning disability would have highs and lows in different areas. And on a GED or IQ test, they might score lower than they are actually capable. Someone who is brilliant might have a learning disability.”

Ford testified the Flynn effect is not recommended by the American Psychological Association, and that the margin of error with the IQ test could mean Carroll functions at a level higher than the 71 score.

Carroll is currently serving life without the possibility of parole stemming from a 1998 capital murder conviction in Jefferson County.

He was removed from the general inmate population in September 2009 after Turner was stabbed to death.

According to the first count of the indictment Carroll “did intentionally cause the death of Michael Darrell Turner by stabbing him with a prison made knife,” and that Carroll caused that death after having been convicted of another murder within the last 20 years.

The second count of the indictment, also for capital murder, stated Carroll intentionally caused Turner’s death while under the sentence of life in prison.

Contact Elsie Hodnett at