2 Courts Issue Stays of Execution for Mentally Retarded Killer Warren Hill
CNN reports that the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and the Georgia Court of Appeals both granted stays of execution on Tuesday for Warren Lee Hill, 53, who came within minutes of being killed by lethal injection.
“I think we were within about a half hour of the execution,” Brian Kammer, one of Hill’s lawyers, told CNN.
The two courts that issued the stays did so for different reasons. The Georgia Court of Appeals cited the manner in which the prison handles the lethal injection drugs used in executions, while the federal court’s stay “order[ed] a further briefing on the issue of mental retardation.”
Nine different doctors concur that Hill, whose IQ is 70, is intellectually disabled. The Supreme Court, in the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia decision, ruled that executing mentally retarded individuals is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
A Georgia judge even found Hill mentally retarded, but among the 50 states only Georgia requires defendants to prove their disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” All other states only require individuals to show disability based on “preponderance of evidence.” Many mental health experts agree that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is an impossibly strict standard to meet.
This is Hill’s second stay of execution. Last July, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a stay based on concerns about the lethal injection procedure.
Hill, who was serving a life prison sentence for shooting his girlfriend to death in 1985, was sentenced to die for beating a fellow inmate to death with a nail-studded board in 1990. He claimed his victim had made sexual threats against him.