Whether a state prisoner is mentally retarded is a life or death question before the State Supreme Court. While serving a 30-year sentence for rape and sodomy, Steven Parkus strangled to death a fellow inmate. He was sentenced to death. In 1999, Governor Carnahan stayed Parkus’ execution and ordered an examination of his mental fitness. A judge has found Parkus mentally retarded and reduced his sentence to life in prison. The state Attorney General’s office has appealed to the Supreme Court. The state’s appeal hinges on that judge’s ruling.

The state argues that the judge actually found Parkus borderline mentally retarded and it asserts the judge doesn’t have the authority to order that Parkus be re-sentenced to life in prison. The state has appealed, claiming that the judge’s evaluation actually found Parkus to be borderline mentally retarded.

Lawyer Sean O’Brien has argued before the Supreme Court that a federal court ruling and state law prohibits the execution of the mentally retarded and Parkus should not be considered eligible for execution. A ruling by the Supreme Court will come later.