On Friday, jurors in the Shelton Mills case -- a capital murder trial in Pitt County -- returned a verdict that Mr. Mills is not retarded.
The ruling sets the stage for a final, full-blown sentencing deliberation. Capital trials normally have two phases: a guilt/innocence phase and, if a jury returns a verdict of guilty, a sentencing phase (i.e. death or life without parole).
However, where the defendant has significant evidence of mental retardation, the judge may add a middle phase. Under NC law (and U.S Supreme Court decisions), the mentally retarded are inelgible for execution. This third phase asks the jury to answer just only the issue of mental retardation. If the jury finds that a defendant is not mentally retarded, they must then enter the full sentencing deliberation and determine whether death is the appropriate punishment.
Mills had been diagnosed by multiple psychologists as mentally retarded and scored a 71 on a standardized IQ test. Under NC law, a person must score a 70 to be mentally retarded, although there is substantial wiggle room in IQ tests, as the standard measurement of error can be 5 points and other factors can cause a raised IQ, even among the mentally retarded.
The jury rejected those points and found Mills eligible for death. They will resume on Tuesday to decide if he is the worst of the worst and should die for his crimes, despite his low intelligence.