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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules serial murderer ineligible for death penalty

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - The state's highest court said on May 25 that a man convicted of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl is no longer eligible for the death penalty and reformed his sentence to life.

Juan Segundo Texas Department of Justice

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that under current diagnostic criteria, Juan Segundo is now considered intellectually disabled and can no longer be executed.

In 1986, Vanessa Villa, 11, was at home alone while her family ran errands when she was strangled and raped inside her home. The case went cold for nearly two decades until Juan Segundo was arrested in 2005.

Between Villa's murder and his arrest Segundo raped and killed two other women.

Segundo was convicted of capital murder in 2006 and sentenced to death. His attorneys filed a claim that he was intellectually disabled and should not be executed. At the time, these claims were rejected by courts under then-current medical diagnostic criteria.

In 2018, Segundo's attorney's argued that the previous claim of intellectual disability had been analyzed under an outdated and unconstitutional standard and should be reexamined.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities -- both of which had been updated since Segundo's previous assessment -- were used to evaluate his status.

Dr. Stephen Thorne, a forensic psychologist, determined that under the new criteria, Segundo was no longer eligible for the death penalty. According to a ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, "The diagnostic criteria detailed in the manuals were 'revised so drastically and pervasively that what it even means to be intellectually disabled has substantively changed, that only means that the mental health experts' understanding of the condition has evolved.'"

Under these conditions, Segundo is now considered intellectually disabled and is ineligible for the death penalty. His sentence has been reformed to life and he will be up for parole in 2026.

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