52-year-old Warren Hill will be executed by lethal injection next Monday after he was denied clemency on July 16. In 1990, while Hill was serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, Myra Wright, he beat fellow prison inmate Joseph Handspike to death with a nail-studded board and received a death sentence.
In 2002, Hill was officially deemed mentally retarded by a Georgia Court; the execution of those with mental retardation is banned by the US Supreme Court. In both of Hill’s trials, the juries had not been told that his IQ was about 70, that he grew up in a violent home and that he had shown signs of intellectual disabilities since he was young.
Despite the Supreme Court ban, Hill could still be executed tomorrow evening at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson under Georgia’s law that inmates seeking to avoid execution must prove byeond a reasonable doubt that they are mentally retarded. In the 2002 judgement, Hill was found to be mentally retarded according to a lesser standard, based on a “preponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not,” says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Last week, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office said that Hill had failed to prove that he has intellectual disabilities.
Georgia was actually the first state in the US to ban the execution of those with intellectual disabilities, after the execution of Jerome Bowden, who was found to have an IQ of 65 just days before he was killed. But Georgia’s 1988 law also included the requirement of proving an inmate to be mentally retarded “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Hill’s lawyers are now appealing to the US Supreme Court to reconsider reviewing his case and to stay the execution. Former President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn and advocates for the developmentally disabled are pleading for mercy in Hill’s case. Rita Young, director of public policy for All About Developmental Disabilities in Decatur, has called for Hill instead to be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. Other disability groups have “warned that Hill’s mild form of learning disabilities makes him particularly vulnerable to wrongful execution because their difficulties are not easily identified,” says the Guardian.
At the time he killed Handspike, Hill was also being held in a “shared prison dormitory and was coming under physical and sexual harassment from other inmates.” His lawyer, Brian Kammer, has emphasized that Hill’s killing of Handspike was “impulsive” and not intentional. Richard Handspike, nephew of Joseph Handspike, has said that his family does not think that Hill should be executed.
Time is running out for Hill and very, very quickly. As Andrew Rosenthal writes in the New York Times, Hill’s case shows why it is “impossible to administer [the death penalty] fairly and ethically.” Hill’s pending execution makes it too clear why, beyond a “reasonable doubt,” the death penalty in the US must be abolished.
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