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A killer will remain on Florida’s Death Row for a 1981 Palm Beach County murder after the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected claims he is intellectually disabled.
The 6-0 ruling denied Jerry Haliburton, 66, who stabbed his West Palm Beach neighbor 31 times “just to see if he could kill another human being.”
After losing numerous appeals over his guilt and other challenges, Haliburton recently argued he shouldn’t be executed because he has below average intelligence and other struggles. But both a lower court judge in 2019 and the state’s highest court have said they don’t buy it.
“We conclude that the trial court’s finding that Haliburton failed to establish that he has significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning is supported by competent, substantial evidence in the record,” the Supreme Court justices wrote in a 32-page order.
The ruling moves Haliburton one step closer to lethal injection for the murder of Donald Bohannon, a 25-year-old man who was attacked while he was sleeping inside his apartment. A medical examiner counted 31 knife wounds over the victim’s neck, chest, arms and scrotum. Haliburton’s fingerprints were found at the crime scene.
Capital punishment for intellectually disabled people has been barred ever since a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Haliburton then claimed he should be protected.
Yet after he scored 74 on an IQ test, the Florida Supreme Court in 2013 denied the claim. It then pointed to state guidelines of using a strict cut off of a 70 IQ or less in determining whether a death sentence could be carried out.
However, Haliburton won a victory the following year, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s criteria. It said Florida’s system created “an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed, and thus is unconstitutional.”
That ruling opened the door for Haliburton to be examined under a completely different standard than merely numerical IQ.
That standard still included scoring on IQ tests, but it also measured something called “adaptive behavior.” That meant the extent to which someone is competent in reading, writing, math, problem solving, having empathy toward others, ability to make friends, being able to hold down a job, and skills for managing money.
The criteria also looked at whether those conditions started before age 18.
Two years ago, the trial court heard testimony from two psychologists and one of Haliburton’s brothers. The brother said Haliburton finished ninth grade but never managed to live alone, drive a car, or have a bank account.
He also claimed Haliburton “lacked common sense” and “only knew how to solve problems by fighting.”
A psychologist called by the defense testified that there was a 95 percent chance that Haliburton’s IQ is between 70 and 79. The expert also said Haliburton had “very poor vocabulary, was very concrete in his thinking, had to have questions asked simply and repeated.” That amounted to a finding of intellectual disability.
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But the psychologist called by prosecutors testified Haliburton’s true IQ as being in the 79-80 range, rather than on the low end of 70. The expert said the man’s vocabulary “was rich with words that would be expected from someone who was well within their upper high school years.”
Concluding that Haliburton was not intellectually disabled, the doctor also pointed out that Haliburton was an avid reader and “watches world news, C-SPAN, political shows, and follows the progress of bills.”
After reviewing these findings, then-Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Colbath found Haliburton “has failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he is intellectually disabled.”
That led to an appeal and Thursday’s Supreme Court decision. Justice Jorge Labarga, a former Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge, recused himself from it.
Attorneys for Haliburton could not be reached for comment despite a call and email to their offices in Fort Lauderdale.