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Justices order hearing for death row inmate in 1976 murder

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Four decades after a woman died of injuries suffered in a brutal beating, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a hearing to determine whether one of her killers should be spared the death penalty.

Justices, in a 5-2 decision, said Death Row inmate William Thompson, 64, should receive a hearing to determine if he is intellectually disabled.

The ruling stems largely from a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Hall v. State, that required changes in Florida's system of determining whether inmates have intellectual disabilities.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court found that executing people who are intellectually disabled, or in the common terminology at the time, mentally retarded, violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The 2014 decision rejected Florida's practice of using an IQ score of 70 as a "bright-line" standard for whether inmates are intellectually disabled.

In Thursday's ruling, the Florida Supreme Court said Thompson had a range of IQ scores over his life, with several below 75, and that courts had improperly used the previous standard of 70 in his case.

"Because Thompson's eligibility or ineligibility for execution must be determined in accordance with the correct United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, this case is a prime example of preventing a manifest injustice if we did not apply Hall (v. State) to Thompson," said the majority opinion supported fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry.

Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred with the result but did not sign on to the majority opinion.

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

The ruling will send the case back to Miami-Dade circuit court for an evidentiary hearing about whether Thompson is intellectually disabled.

He and another man were convicted of fatally assaulting Sally Ivester in 1976 in a motel room because she was not able to get as much money from her family as the men had hoped. Ivester died of internal bleeding and other injuries, the Supreme Court opinion said.