Will the Supreme Court Spare Warren Hill?

Update (Wednesday, July 23): Georgia was unable to appeal the trial judge’s ruling on Friday to the Georgia Supreme Court because state lawyers did not receive the court reporter’s transcript from Thursday’s hearing on time. The state’s death warrant for Hill has now expired. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to review Hill’s petition that he is intellectually disabled in September. However, legal maneuvers could result in a new execution date before the Supreme Court hearing.

Update (Thursday, July 18): Today a Georgia judge ruled that the state’s new law shielding the source of lethal injection drugs interferes with Warren Hill’s right to challenge the method of execution. His stay of execution (which was rescheduled to July 19) has been extended. The state plans to appeal this ruling.

Update (Monday, July 15): Warren Hill’s execution has been stayed for now. During a hearing today, Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan scheduled another hearing for this Thursday, July 18 to consider challenges raised by Hill’s lawyer about the new Georgia law that keeps the identities of the doctors who prescribe the lethal injection drug and the manufacturer of it a secret.

In February, minutes before he was to be executed, Georgia death row inmate Warren Lee Hill was granted a stay. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that further review was needed of new affidavits by state mental health experts who changed their minds about Hill’s mental capacity.

Mr. Hill has an IQ of 70 and is considered intellectually disabled. According to the 2002 U. S. Supreme Court decision Atkins v. Virginia, people with intellectual disability are to be excluded from execution because of their reduced culpability. However, the Supreme Court left it up to the states to define and determine intellectual disability and Georgia has the strictest requirement in the country: one must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

In 2000, three doctors testified on behalf of the state that Hill did not meet the criteria for mental retardation, as it was called at the time, and instead diagnosed him with borderline intellectual functioning. This past February, however, those same doctors released sworn affidavits affirming that Hill is intellectually disabled, thus concurring with all other doctors who have examined him. Although this would appear to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt, it doesn’t seem to be enough. On April 23, 2013, an Eleventh Circuit panel in a 2-1 vote denied Hill’s habeas petition, finding that he did not meet the standards of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and so they could not consider the new evidence of his intellectual disability.

In May, Hill’s attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. Supreme Court and they are scheduled to review his petition on September 30. Despite this, last week, Georgia set another execution date for Hill for this coming Monday, July 15, at 7:00 p.m. ET. Hill’s lawyers filed a motion for a stay of execution with the Eleventh Circuit and it was denied on Tuesday. Warren Hill’s life now depends on an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“All experts who have evaluated Warren Hill agree: he is mentally retarded,” said Brain Kammer, Hill’s attorney. “Mr. Hill’s execution would therefore be a grotesque miscarriage of justice and render the Eighth Amendment a mere paper tiger. This case presents the extraordinary circumstances where an individual who is ineligible for a capital sentence is about to be executed. Mr. Hill has no recourse left but to beg the nation’s highest court to intervene, and we trust and hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his plea.”

Several individuals and organizations are speaking out against the execution of Warren Hill, including the family of the victim, President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter, the American Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Two amicus briefs in support of Hill’s petition were also filed, including one from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and another filed by law professors with expertise on habeas corpus. In addition, several jurors who sat on Hill’s original jury have also stated under oath that they believe that life without parole is the appropriate sentence in this case. It was not offered to them as an option at trial in 1991.

The Georgia Department of Corrections announced today that it will get pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy for the execution, though it is unknown what doctor is writing the prescription for the drug and what pharmacy or pharmacist will mix it. This is because Georgia recently passed a law that makes the name of any person or entity who participates in an execution a “confidential state secret.”

For more information on this case, please read and distribute this recent opinion editorial that appeared in The Atlantic. Please also sign this petition to Georgia’s Governor and Attorney General.

Photo via rawstory.com

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