Texas Psychologist Who Approved Defendants for Execution Barred from Future Work

The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists recently reprimanded and fined Dr. George Denkowski, a psychologist who examined many death row inmates for intellectual disabilities, including two who were subsequently executed.  Despite using unscientific methods that have been sharply criticized by other psychologists, Dr. Denkowski found 16 inmates qualified for execution.  As part of a settlement, Dr. Denkowski agreed not to conduct intellectual disability evaluations in future criminal cases and to pay a fine of $5,500.  Marc J. Tassé, director of the Ohio State University Nisonger Center and an expert in developmental disabilities, said, "What Denkowski has been doing is a pretty radical departure. There’s absolutely no scientific basis to his procedure.”

State Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston and a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, said every case involving Dr. Denkowski should be reviewed by the courts:  “We cannot simply shrug our shoulders and sit by and watch while the state uses legal technicalities to execute these intellectually disabled men,” Mr. Ellis said, “especially on the word of someone who is no longer permitted to make these kinds of determinations.”

Kathryn Kase, an attorney with the Texas Defender Service (TDS) who represents Daniel Plata, one of the inmates evaluated by Dr. Denowski, said, "Once again another junk science scandal has rocked Texas' death row.  The courts must review the cases of these men who were evaluated using highly questionable methods before any executions take place. Otherwise, we will not only be violating the Constitution, but our most basic moral standards."  According to TDS, in 2005, Denkowski found that Kase's client Plata did not have mental retardation, despite three IQ tests showing an IQ below 70. Denkowski added points to Plata's adaptive behavior test results because Plata was from an "impoverished background." The state courts disagreed with Denkowski's opinion and sharply rebuked him for his improper methods.

 (B. Grissom, "Psychologist Who Cleared Death Row Inmates Is Reprimanded," New York Times (Texas Tribune), April 14, 2011; Texas Defender Service Press Release, April 15, 2011).  See Arbitrariness and Intellectual Disabilities.