Warren Hill was supposed to die by lethal execution at 7:00 pm on Monday, July 23 — by tonight. The Georgia Supreme Court has granted him a stay of execution, though not for the reasons that disability advocates have been calling for.
Hill’s lawyers have been fighting for more than a decade to halt his execution on the grounds that he has intellectual disabilities. With less than two hours to spare, he was granted the stay of execution — after he had already eaten what he thought would be his final meal in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson — because Georgia’s high state court said that it has to determine if a recent change to Georgia’s lethal-injection protocol is in violation of state law, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
By a 6-1 vote, the same court has declined to hear Hill’s appeal to Georgia’s standard about whether an inmate is mentally disabled. Justice Robert Benham was the lone dissenter and said that he “would not allow the execution because Hill has been found to have a mental disability.”
In 1990, while Hill was serving a life sentence for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright, he beat fellow prison inmate Joseph Handspike to death with a nail-studded board and received a death sentence.
The US Supreme Court bars the execution of those with mental retardation. While Georgia was the first state to ban the execution of those with mental retardation, its 1988 law also included the requirement of proving an inmate to be mentally retarded “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In 2002, Hill was found to be mentally retarded according to a lesser standard, based on a “preponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has said that Hill had failed to prove that he has intellectual disabilities.
It may not be months till the Georgia Supreme Court rules on Hill’s appeal. The court has given itself till April 14 of next year to make a decision.
As Brian Kammer, one of Hill’s lawyers, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ““I’m just profoundly grateful the Supreme Court granted this stay. A terrible miscarriage of justice was avoided, for now.”
Will disability advocates be able to persuade Georgia’s legislature to change the state’s burden of proof for “mental retardation”?
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