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Fed appeals court rejects death penalty exemption

Lawyers: Man has mental handicap

  • n3jfrazier-5

    Frazier

  • CTY-sentence15p-3-jpg

    James Frazier's lawyers argued he has a mental handicap.

    Blade

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Frazier

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COLUMBUS — A federal appeals court Monday rejected the argument from convicted murderer James Frazier that he is mentally retarded and exempt from Ohio’s death penalty.

Frazier, 73, who is on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, was convicted of robbing and killing Mary Stevenson, a disabled woman at Northgate Apartments where Frazier was attending a crack cocaine party late on March 1, 2004, or early the next morning. Frazier apparently robbed Ms. Stevenson for money when the party was short of drugs.

IQ tests conducted before Frazier’s trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court found his score to be slightly above 70, the threshold above which the law presumes someone is not mentally retarded. The court noted that the expert hired by the defense found he was not retarded, prompting his attorneys to drop that line of strategy at trial.

Among other things, the latest appeal argues that his defense was ineffective in not continuing to pursue that plan. But the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said that decision was not out of line given the facts the defense had at the time.

The court said Frazier failed to meet the higher burden of proving he is not eligible for the death penalty because of his mental capacity.

“In Frazier’s favor are the facts that he attended special-education classes, that he never progressed beyond the tenth grade, that he earned two Cs, 21 Ds, and one F in high school, and that he was labeled a “slow learner…” wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore. “However, being placed in special-education classes does not necessarily render someone mentally retarded. And failing to complete high school does not necessarily result from subaverage intellectual functioning….

“If Frazier needed to prove his limitations only by a preponderance of the evidence, we might be inclined to agree with him,” Judge Moore wrote. “However, at this stage of the litigation, Frazier’s proof must be clear and convincing. The limited and muddled academic records make this impossible.”

Frazier was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary. Ms. Stevenson, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was strangled and her throat slit as Frazier made away with her purses.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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