|FOCUS ON THE FACULTY
SPECIAL EDUCATION PROFESSOR HAS HIGH PROFILE SPECIALTY
|By Molly Colello
Denis Keyes, an associate professor of special
education, has made it his life's mission to help mentally and
physically challenged persons and those who will teach and work with
them. He can be even more passionate about a small segment of the
population that many in society don't know about and/or don't care
about: mentally retarded convicts on death row. Keyes has
become a leading expert and advocate in the investigation of such
His special education work began years earlier
in Los Angeles where, at his sister's suggestion, he took a job working
with mentally retarded pre-schoolers. Keyes found that he became
very fond of the youngster because "they were just the cutest."
After a while, Keyes moved back to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio where
as a teacher's assistant he continued working with children with
severe mental disabilities. He says the children ignited his passion
for teaching and he began working toward a bachelor's degree at Ohio
University. After graduation he worked for five years as a special
education teacher in Hamilton County, Ohio. He would continue his
higher education with a master's degree in education from Miami
University of Ohio, then a doctorate from the University of New Mexico.
Today, Keyes dedicates his time to his College of Charleston students, his research and his often high profile death row cases. He is at the top of many lawyers lists across the nation who want Keyes to evaluate their clients. This work he normally does pro bono and on weekends so he doesn't miss his C of C teaching responsibilities.
Before deciding to get involved in a case involving a defendant suspected of crimes-- and possibly suspected to be mentally retarded-- Keyes says he looks at the following criteria. First, he checks to see if there are sufficient records, such as an IQ test, on the client/convict to reveal a background of special education, brain damage, or mental retardation. Keyes also requires extensive information regarding the client/convict's adaptive skills. Insights into this can be gained through testimony or documentation from former teachers, psychologists, probation officers and ministers. Last-- but not least-- Keyes also prefers to conduct his own evaluation. His dissertation was on detecting malingering (or staged) mental retardation. Keyes says he does not hesitate to walk away from a case if he feels the client is attempting to use mental retardation as an escape.
To date, Keyes has been involved in 55 to 60 cases and has testified 25 times. He says one of his most satisfying accomplishments was being cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Atkins vs. Virginia decision in which the court legally established that the execution of people with mental retardation violated the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment that protects citizens against cruel and unusual punishment.
Outside the classroom and the courtroom, Keyes says he enjoys cooking Indian meals, working in his yard and traveling, although he says, "I'd rather be home with my dog." Keyes has found a balance between his passion for teaching and his highly specialized, sometimes controversial, legal specialty.
For more information on Dr. Denis Keyes, please see: http://www.cofc.edu/~keyesd/