Mentally disabled man faces wrongful execution on Monday
July 22, 2012
Warren Lee Hill will be put to death by the state of Georgia in a case that has drawn national attention because of the harshness of the Georgia law being applied.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that the mentally retarded should not be executed in the U.S. because their mental state “places them at special risk of wrongful execution,” but Georgia is the only state in the union that requires defendants to prove their mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in over the next 24 hours and stays the execution, Hill will be put to death for the killing of Joseph Handspike, another inmate in the prison where Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1986 killing of his girlfriend.
Warren Lee Hill’s case has attracted a broad swath of support and outrage, from the New York Times editorial page to former President Jimmy Carter.
“The pardon board has the discretion and the duty to commute his sentence to life without parole,” the Times wrote in a July 6 editorial. “The legal and factual record strongly compels that just decision.”
Even the family of the victim do not wish to see Hill executed and has submitted an affidavit supporting commuting Hill’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole, citing his mental retardation. President Carter and Rosalyn Carter have called for a commutation of Hill’s death sentence to life without parole, as have numerous mental health and disability groups. Several jurors who sat on Hill’s original jury have stated under oath that they believe that life without parole is the appropriate sentence. It was not offered to them as an option at trial in 1991. Earlier this week, the nation of France, a United Nations official, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for a stay of execution for Mr. Hill.
In a closely divided 4-to-3 ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the statute on the grounds that the United States Supreme Court left it to the states to set procedures for deciding on retardation. But the Times pointed out that this procedural requirement effectively denies protection for the mentally impaired, as required by the Eighth Amendment.
This week Judge Thomas Wilson of the Superior Court of Butts County, GA again found Mr. Hill to be a person with mental retardation, stating: “The Court finds that this Court’s previous finding inHill v. Head, Butts Co. Case No. 94-V-216, that Mr. Hill has an I.Q. of 70 beyond a reasonable doubt and meets the overall criteria for mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence is justified by the evidence in this case.”
But the judge refused to stay Monday’s scheduled execution, finding that Mr. Hill does not meet Georgia’s strict and unusual beyond a reasonable doubt standard.