Xochitl Torres Small, a Democratic congressional candidate in New Mexico, played a "pivotal role" in helping a convicted rapist and murderer avoid the death penalty. Freddie Lee Hall was convicted in 1978 of the rape and murder of a pregnant woman as well as the murder of a deputy sheriff.
Torres Small was a law student who worked in support of Hall in Hall v. Florida. The Supreme Court ruled in Hall's favor in a 2014 ruling.
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"A University of New Mexico law professor and nine of his students played a pivotal role in Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Florida law that set a minimum IQ of 70 as a benchmark in determining whether a convicted murderer can be executed," the Albuquerque Journal reported at the time. Torres Small was one of those nine student volunteers.
Torres Small and her UNM colleagues filed an amicus curiae brief on the Supreme Court case that centered on Hall, who in 1978 raped and killed a 21-year-old woman and then killed a deputy sheriff while fleeing in Florida. Hall's female victim, Karol Hurst, was seven months pregnant. Hall was sentenced to death, but his attorney's argued the sentence was unconstitutional due to his intellectual disability. At the time of his conviction, Florida's law only prohibited the death penalty for individuals with an IQ below 70.
The Florida Supreme Court initially upheld Hall's sentence because his average IQ score was above 70, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Although the Florida Supreme Court noted Hall had been "mentally retarded his entire life," it upheld the sentence because his average IQ score was above 70. His scores had ranged from the 60s to low 70s, but one outlier score of 80 made a crucial difference.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the IQ methodology used in sentencing and cited the UNM brief in its decision, which was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Following that decision, UNM law professor Jim Ellis said the legal team, including Torres Small, was "very gratified that the court endorsed the position we had taken on behalf of the national disability organizations that all evidence needs to be considered."
Other students on the team for the brief included Lynne Canning, Emily Carey, Kylie Cook, Martin Juarez, Jason Kerkmans, Brian Moore, Kari Olson, and Van Snow.
According to Ellis, the team "planned, researched, organized, wrote and edited the brief. The students and faculty members helped with legal and psychological research, records review and checking of legal citations." He described their work as "crucial."
Hall's death penalty conviction was overturned by Florida in 2016.
The National Republican Congressional Committee said Torres Small's work stands in sharp contrast to her Republican opponent, New Mexico State Rep. Yvette Herrell.
"This is a clear contrast in priorities: while Xochitl Torres Small spent her time helping a dangerous criminal get a reduced sentence, Yvette Herrell has fought for law enforcement and greater security for our communities," NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol told the Washington Free Beacon.
Torres Small has tried to bill herself as a moderate running a "a campaign right down the middle" in her fight against Herrell. The polls showed the race neck-and-neck.