Supreme Court declines Warren Lee Hill death penalty appeal

Photo of a gas chamber
Warren Lee Hill Executed

The state of Georgia executed a man with severe intellectual disabilities January 27, after the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to deny his request to block the execution.

The execution marked the fourth time that the state of Georgia had scheduled Warren Lee Hill for capital punishment. Lower courts blocked his scheduled executions in July 2012 and February 2013 upon findings that his disabilities made him ineligible for the death penalty. Another judge blocked his execution in July 2013 due to concerns about the drugs the state had authorized for administering the lethal injection.

Hill’s IQ had been measured as low as 70, which is generally considered the cutoff point for determining whether a state can impose the death penalty in accordance with the Constitution.

Brian Kammer, Hill’s attorney, lashed out at the Supreme Court for declining to intervene in the case.

“Today, the Court has unconscionably allowed a grotesque miscarriage of justice to occur in Georgia,” Kammer wrote in a statement, according to the Christian Science Monitor. “Georgia has been allowed to execute an unquestionably intellectually disabled man, Warren Hill, in direct contravention of the Court’s clear precedent prohibiting such cruelty.”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, without comment, from the Supreme Court’s denial of the request for certiorari.

The Supreme Court, in its 2002 Atkins v. Virginia decision, ruled that the use of the death penalty against individuals with severe disabilities violated the Eight Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision, however, left it to the states to create their own criteria for who qualified for the death penalty under the new standard, although in 2014, it ruled that Florida’s 70 IQ cutoff violated the Eighth Amendment.

Georgia is the only state in the country that requires death row inmates to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that their disabilities make them ineligible for the death penalty.

Georgia’s Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the state’s use of this standard, the strictest in the criminal justice system, for capital punishment cases in 2011.

Hill, 54, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985, for allegedly killing his girlfriend. He had been on death row since 1990, after he allegedly killed another prison inmate.