updated 10/14/2004 8:41:39 PM ET 2004-10-15T00:41:39

Jurors who must decide if a twice-convicted murderer should be executed heard conflicting testimony Thursday from mental health experts on the key issue of whether Derrick Todd Lee is mentally retarded.

Lee, 35, has been linked by DNA evidence to the deaths of seven women from 1998 to 2003. The same jury that convicted him Tuesday of first-degree murder in the death of Charlotte Murray Pace of Baton Rouge began deliberations Thursday night on whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison. A unanimous vote of the 12 jurors is needed for a death sentence.

A 2002 Supreme Court decision forbids the execution of the mentally retarded.

In closing arguments, prosecutor John Sinquefield urged the jury to give Lee the death penalty, saying he was a “serial killer trying to hide behind a claim of mental retardation to escape the punishment he so richly deserves.”

Defense: ‘I do not fathom that evil’
Lee’s attorney pleaded for his client’s life.

“I don’t know what kind of evil must have descended upon that man to produce what you saw in those pictures. I do not understand that evil. I do not fathom that evil. But that evil is not defeated by sticking a needle in an arm,” attorney Bruce Unangst said.

Lee already faces a life sentence for his conviction in August in the slaying of Geralyn DeSoto in West Baton Rouge Parish.

“All of the requirements for mental retardation are met for Mr. Lee, pretty much without question,” said Drew Gouvier, a Louisiana State University psychology professor testifying for the defense.

Gouvier said Lee scored 65 on an IQ test, below the 70 deemed the threshold for mental retardation. That combined with his problems understanding language, coping with situations and making plans showed Lee is mildly retarded, Gouvier said.

Sarah Deland, a psychiatrist at Tulane University, agreed that Lee is mentally retarded, saying she was convinced that Lee had not tried to fool her into thinking that when she interviewed him.

Deland said Lee told her he paid someone to take the test for his commercial truck driver’s license and failed the renewal test when he had to take it himself.

Testimony on work abilities
But after Deland said Lee couldn’t meet the qualifications to become a pipefitter, prosecutors brought in two men who said Lee worked for a construction company in that capacity.

State-by-state executions Gary Robillard, who once was Lee’s supervisor, said Lee was a good pipefitter who could read blueprints and worked his way up on the job.

Prosecutors also called a psychiatrist, Robert Blanche, and a psychologist, Donald Hoppe.

“Once you look at the entire picture, it’s very clear this man is not mentally retarded,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe said the IQ test Gouvier used actually gives a range of scores that shows Lee’s IQ could be anywhere from 62 to 70, and he said a person’s IQ score changes from day to day.

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