As a follow-up to the story below a judge stayed the execution of Warren Lee Hill. Read about it here.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit declined July 9 to review the planned execution by the state of Georgia of a man believed to be “intellectually disabled” by all seven mental health experts whom have reviewed him.
Warren Lee Hill’s execution is planned for 7 p.m., July 15. Hill’s lawyers have filed an appeal, asking for last minute intervention by the Supreme Court.
“All experts who have evaluated Warren Hill agree that he fits the diagnostic classification of intellectually disabled, formerly called mentally retarded,” the ACLU stated in a news release. “It has been more than a decade since the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing intellectually disabled prisoners violates the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court noted that their disability ‘places them at special risk of wrongful execution.'”
In the Atkins decision, decided in 2002, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ended the death penalty against people with “mental retardation.” However, the court deferred to the states to create standards for determining whom is ineligible under the standard.
Georgia is the only state in the nation to require that a defendant prove he is ineligible “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest legal standard in the criminal justice system.
Three experts in 2000 found that Hill has an IQ of 70, placing him right on the line of what is generally considered as ineligible for the death penalty in light of the Atkins decision, according to the Albany Herald. However, all three of those experts have since recanted their findings.
The state of Georgia has twice already almost invoked the death penalty against Hill.
On February 19, 2013, Georgia came within 30 minutes of executing Hill, before the 11th Circuit intervened, agreeing to listen to additional hearings on the question of whether Warren Hill, 53, is ineligible for capital punishment. Hill was also almost executed in July 2012, before a court stepped in to block the execution within 90 minutes of its scheduled time.
The 11th Circuit upheld the state’s use of Georgia’s beyond a reasonable doubt for the death penalty in November 2011, in a 7-4 decision, despite protests from the defendant’s attorneys and the dissenting justices that the standard makes it nearly impossible to spare an individual from execution.
Hill was placed on death row after killing a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, in 1990. He was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend.
The case is not the first recent case that raised the question of the effectiveness of the Atkins decision. The state of Texas executed Milton Mathis in July 2011 and Marvin Wilson in August 2012, despite multiple findings they had recorded IQs of less than 70.