Texas Tribune News
On Tuesday, Texas is set to execute Mark Soliz for the 2010 home robbery and shooting death of a North Texas woman. If it proceeds, the execution will be the sixth in Texas this year and the third in the last month. Nine more are scheduled through December.
Soliz, now 37, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of Nancy Weatherly, 61, and robbery of her Johnson County home, according to court records. Prosecutors said the murder was part of an eight-day crime spree during which Soliz and another man, Jose Ramos, robbed random people at gunpoint, and Soliz killed another man.
Soliz and his lawyers have long argued that his life should be spared because he has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which they claim is the “functional equivalent” of an intellectual disability, a condition the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled disqualifies individuals from execution. Both state and federal courts have rejected the claim during Soliz’s relatively short seven years on death row.
After a federal appellate court denied his most recent appeal Monday, his lawyer said no other court proceedings had been filed to stop the execution. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could delay the execution for 30 days, though he has never done so.
In June 2010, prosecutors said, Soliz and Ramos terrorized residents in the Fort Worth area for eight days before they were arrested on suspicion of one of several crimes, including multiple robberies, carjackings and shootings, another of which was fatal. When police interrogated Ramos about one stolen car, he began talking about another crime — in which he said the two men forced their way into Weatherly’s house in Godley at gunpoint, and Soliz shot her in the back of the head as they robbed her home.
Soliz initially denied killing Weatherly, telling police he was outside by the car when he heard a gunshot and then saw Ramos exit the house. Later during the interrogation, he said he would confess “just to get this over with,” according to a 2014 ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A friend of Soliz’s later said he bragged to her about killing an “old lady.” Ramos received life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder.
At his trial and in his appeals to state and federal courts, Soliz has repeatedly raised the claim that he should not be executed because of his disorder. Several defense experts testified before the jury that he was diagnosed with partial fetal alcohol syndrome, which his lawyers claim caused mental impairments like lack of impulse control, serious adaptive learning deficits and hyper-suggestibility. But the testimony did not keep the jury from handing down a death sentence, and appellate courts have not interfered, partially because the claim was raised at trial and failed.
But Soliz has argued his execution will go against his constitutional rights and recently noted changes in what is clinically considered an intellectual disability. Legal precedent prohibits states from executing people with intellectual disabilities, but Soliz has sought to expand that, saying there are so many similarities between intellectual disability and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that the conditions should be treated the same way in capital cases.
“There are striking parallels between the diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability and FASD,” Soliz’s lawyers wrote in a court filing last month. “Those afflicted with FASD should be categorically ineligible for the death penalty just as the intellectually disabled are, and Soliz’s death sentence violates his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which won the backing of the courts, countered that Soliz’s request to change legal precedent is “overbroad.”
“The Supreme Court has not held that individuals with FASD are exempt from capital punishment. Consequently, Soliz seeks to create — not rely on — a new rule of constitutional law,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Jefferson Clendenin last week in response to Soliz’s last appeals.
Clendenin also argued that Soliz was the leader in the crimes and was “sophisticated, calculated and dangerous.”
Soliz’s execution would be the third carried out by Johnson County, which sits just south of Fort Worth, since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide in the 1970s. The last one was in 2004.
Texas’ five other executions so far this year make up more than a third of the 14 that have taken place in the country. Of the 17 executions still scheduled in the country through December — including three federal cases — nine are set to take place in the Texas death chamber in Huntsville, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Last year, Texas executed 13 men.