A death sentence for a Texas murder suspect described as intellectually disabled has been overturned by a federal judge in Indiana.
Attorneys for Bruce Carneil Webster, 46, had challenged his death sentence based on what they argued was previously unavailable evidence that showed medical professionals had determined Webster was intellectually disabled before his trial, according to court documents.
Webster, of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was the second man sentenced to die for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Lisa Rene, a Lamar High School honor roll student who was abducted from her sister’s Arlington apartment. Rene was raped, beaten and buried alive to get revenge on her brothers for a $5,000 drug-deal rip-off, prosecutors have said. Five suspects were convicted in the case.
Attorneys were able to use Social Security records to prove to the court that scores from Webster’s IQ tests were 69 or lower, this week’s court ruling said.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Lawrence ruled that Webster’s intellectual disability was known when he was a child, court documents stated.
Further sentencing proceedings will be held in the Northern District of Texas, the order said. Webster could still serve life without the possibility of parole.
Webster is currently housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In November of 1996, Orlando Hall of El Dorado, Arkansas, also was sentenced to death for Rene’s murder. He remains on death row.
Three others pleaded guilty to lesser charges in Rene’s death and testified against Webster and Hall. They are Hall’s younger brother, Demetrius Hall, 20, of El Dorado; Steven Beckley, 23, of Irving; and Marvin Holloway, 25, of Pine Bluff.
On Sept. 24, 1994, a camouflage-clad Webster dragged Rene by her hair from her sister’s apartment, where the aspiring surgeon had been home studying on a Saturday night, according to trial testimony.
The 911 operator she called for help captured Rene’s screams on tape. In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Macaluso asked jurors to recall the recording, which had been played in the trial, and the nearly two days of terror that ensued.
Rene spent her last days tied to chairs in two Pine Bluff motels before being bludgeoned with a shovel, doused with gasoline, gagged and left to die in a shallow grave in an Arkansas nature preserve.
“Bear in mind when you hear the sound of her voice and the screams that that was just the beginning,” Macaluso said.
In their final words to the jury, defense attorneys Larry Moore and Allan Butcher recalled testimony that Webster is mentally disabled and the victim of extreme childhood abuse.
During the trial, they called a string of psychologists who testified that the ninth-grade dropout functioned on the level of a 10- or 11-year-old. Several of Webster’s eight older brothers and sisters told the jury that their father forced them to drink urine and perform oral sex on one another.
“Who can possibly say that living through that kind of experience can fail to have an impact on a person?” Butcher asked. “This is not an excuse. We’re talking about moral culpability and the standard to which he should be held.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Roper, who helped to prosecute the case, conceded that Webster’s father may have been abusive.
But he ridiculed suggestions of intellectual disability for a man who studied law books in the jail library, wrote letters and complaints to jail administrators, and escaped his Mansfield jail cell through a food slot four or five times before getting caught in the women’s showers.
Roper recalled that Orlando Hall sent for Webster in Pine Bluff before exacting revenge on Rene’s brothers in Arlington.
This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives.