| Courts |

Is Texas Executing a Mentally Disabled Man Today?

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Today, Texas is scheduled to execute a man who may or may not be intellectually disabled.

In 1997, Coy Wesbrook killed five people at a party at his ex-wife's house east of Houston. After his ex-wife headed to the bedroom with two men she was allegedly sleeping with (according to Wesbrook, the only surviving witness), an enraged Wesbrook ultimately killed her, both men and two of her other friends. Over the years, Wesbrook's attorney, Don Varney, has maintained that the impulsive nature of the murders is reflective of mental deficiencies that have been documented since Wesbrook was a kid. According to court records, various IQ tests given to Wesbrook throughout his childhood scored at 65, 66 and 72 — one was as high as 90, in 1968. Ten years ago, a psychologist hired by the state to evaluate Wesbrook in 2006 found that he had an IQ of 66.

In Texas, defendants with an IQ lower than 70 are considered too mentally disabled to be executed.

But within months, that same psychologist hired by the state, Dr. George Denkowski, took back his initial findings and in a new report said that, based on “non-intellectual factors,” Wesbrook’s “actual adult general intelligence functioning is estimated to be of about 84 IQ quality.”

Within years, that same psychologist would be reprimanded by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists for the questionable methods he used to evaluate other defendants' mental capacity. He has evaluated 14 inmates that ended up on death row, including Wesbrook.

He has found that inmates like Steven Butler, who according to family didn't understand the rules of basketball and had to ask friends to read menus for him, are not mentally disabled, as the Texas Tribune reported. He had rejected other IQ tests that showed Butler's intelligence was well below average. In another case, he did the same thing to one defendant as he did to Wesbrook: He initially found that Michael Richard, who raped and murdered a woman in Houston in 1986 , had an IQ of 57 and was too disabled for the death penalty. That is, until Denkowski found dictionaries in Richard's cell, which was apparently enough to bump his IQ score up to 76.  He was cleared for death row and executed in 2007.

Following the State Board's decision to discredit Denkowski's methods, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered that a Harris County trial court re-evaluate Coy Wesbrook's mental capacity. The court did not find Wesbrook mentally retarded based largely on all the tests that had already been done — including those from his childhood. It also relied on testimony from family and friends during Wesbrook's trial. His brother, Isaac, had testified that Wesbrook dropped out of eighth grade. He was 15 or 16 years old.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.