Micus Ward was convicted three years ago for murdering an elderly woman in her sleep in 2013. He was 22 in June 2016, when he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ward has an IQ of about 59, according to court filings.
The Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to look into Ward's case, offering a high-stakes examination of the legal rights of violent suspects with intellectual disabilities.
The high court said it’s looking at two main issues: whether the U.S. Constitutional allows for someone with an intellectual disability to get a sentence of life without parole, and how an intellectual disability affects suspects’ rights at the time they’re arrested.
Ward's intellectual disability was raised during his 2016 trial, but so were Ward’s alleged gang affiliations and his apparent lack of remorse after the murder.
According to an article in The Oregonian at the time, prosecutor Allison Brown downplayed Ward's low intelligence in her statements to jurors.
"I'm not saying that he's a mental giant," she said. "But most of the population in prison are not mental giants."
In an interview with OPB this week, Ward’s attorney for the appeal, Bear Wilner-Nugent said his argument is in line with recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
“Just as juveniles can both not be executed and given life without parole so too people with intellectual disability should not be given life without parole,” Wilner-Nugent said.
Oregon lawmakers recently changed how the state treats violent offenders who are under 18, by ensuring young offenders aren’t sentenced to life without parole.
Now, the Oregon Supreme Court will examine whether that limitation should also extend to offenders with a mental disability. The Supreme Court said they will look at “whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution prohibit a trial court from sentencing an intellectually disabled person convicted of aggravated murder to life in prison with the possibility of release or parole.”
The high court will also look at the rights of intellectually disabled suspects as they’re taken into police custody. The Supreme Court’s statement said it will review “whether the trial court erred by denying petitioner’s motion to suppress his statements to police, because petitioner, who is intellectually disabled, had not validly waived his Miranda rights.”
Oral arguments are scheduled for next March.