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Supreme Court Declines to Decide How Long Is Too Long on Death Row

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a claim from a Texas prison inmate that spending decades on death row amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bobby James Moore was sentenced to death by a Texas court more than 35 years ago.

"Forcing a prisoner to endure decades on death row raises profound constitutional concerns," his lawyer said in urging the court to take the case.

Bobby James Moore, who was sentenced to death by a Texas court 35 years ago will now have his case regarding his mental status heard by The Supreme Court. Texas Department of Criminal Justice

But after first indicating it would hear the death row time-limit issue, the court later Monday issued an updated orders list indicating that it will not. It will decide only another issue raised by Moore regarding his mental status.

Related: Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty Law

Moore was one of three people who set out to rob a Houston grocery store in 1980. During the robbery, one of the employees was shot and killed. Moore was convicted and sentenced to death.

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Lower courts denied his claim, finding that the delay was caused in part by his own repeated appeals, in which his lawyers also argued that he is intellectually disabled, falling below the minimum IQ level to make him death-eligible based on previous Supreme Court rulings.

Related: Death Penalty Case Inflames Supreme Court Passions

On the delay issue, his lawyers say the average time between sentencing and execution is now nearly 18 years, and death row inmate are often kept in solitary confinement, adding to the psychological stress.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have said long periods of confinement on death row raise grave constitutional questions. And Justice Anthony Kennedy has separately expressed concern about excessive solitary confinement.

Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said the nation's lower courts have consistently rejected claims that long periods on death row are unconstitutional.

The court will hear the case in its next term, which begins in October.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected and updated to reflect that the Supreme Court initially indicated it would hear the death row time-limit issue. Later on Monday the court issued an updated orders list indicating that it will not. It will decide only another issue raised by Moore regarding his mental status.