Fulks v. Watson, No. 20-1900 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Fulks pleaded guilty to eight federal charges—including two death-eligible offenses—arising from the 2002 carjacking, kidnapping, and death of Alice Donovan. Fulks had escaped from a Kentucky jail. Fulks’s attorneys, the court observed, “painted a compelling and empathetic picture" of Fulks "growing up in poor, crowded, filthy, and deplorable living conditions, raised by violently abusive, sexually deviant, emotionally neglectful, and alcoholic parents.” They hired or consulted at least 11 experts, six of whom testified that Fulks suffered from borderline intelligence with IQ scores ranging from 75-79, plus moderate brain and cognitive impairments. Fulks did not argue that he was intellectually disabled and ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia. The district court imposed, two death sentences.
In 2008 Fulks moved to vacate his death sentences under 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to call additional mental health experts; again, Fulks did not raise an Atkins claim nor assert that his attorneys provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise such claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief; the Supreme Court denied certiorari. In 2015 he filed a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The probability that Fulks would not have prevailed on his Atkins claim in 2008 does not mean that section 2255 was inadequate or ineffective. Updates to the legal and diagnostic standards, which may now provide Fulks a stronger basis to prove an intellectual disability, do not expose any structural defect in section 2255.