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Georgia Set to Carry Out Unconstitutional Execution of Mentally Retarded Murderer Warren Hill

February 19, 2013 by Brett Wilkins in Courts, Crime & Punishment with 0 Comments

Warren Lee HillBarring an eleventh-hour reprieve, the US state of Georgia is set to execute a convicted multiple murderer by lethal injection on Tuesday evening.

Warren Lee Hill, 53, was sentenced to life behind bars for shooting his 18-year-old girlfriend Myra Wright 11 times in 1985. While serving his sentence in 1990, Hill beat his cellmate Joseph Handspike, 34, to death with a nail-embedded board. Hill claimed that Handspike had made sexual threats against him.

Three forensic psychiatrists testified in Hill’s death penalty trial that he was mentally able to discern the difference between right and wrong, backing the prosecution’s assertion that he was not mentally deficient. But just last week those three psychiatrists changed their assessment of Hill, arguing that he is mentally retarded and that their original evaluation of Hill was wrong.

According to the Guardian, Thomas Sachy, a neuropsychiatrist who examined Hill for just one hour in 2000 before finding him fit to be executed, had no prior experience evaluating individuals with learning disabilities and no experience testifying in a forensic setting.

“The whole process, including my evaluation of Mr. Hill, was rushed… my previous conclusions about Mr. Hill’s mental health status were unreliable because of my lack of experience at the time,” Sachy wrote in an affidavit dated February 8.

Forensic psychiatrist James Gary Carter, one of the other two professionals who examined Hill, stated in a February 12 affidavit that “the timetable for [the] evaluation of Mr. Hill was extremely and unusually rushed” and that he now believes Hill “meets the criteria for mild mental retardation.” Carter places Hill’s IQ at 70, the threshold for retardation.

Nine doctors have now given their expert medical opinion that Hill is mentally retarded. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executions of mentally retarded individuals are “cruel and unusual punishment” banned under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

A Georgia judge ruled that Hill was retarded based on “preponderance of evidence,” a standard used by the other 49 states by which defendants must show they are likely to be intellectually disabled in order to avoid execution. But in Georgia, unique among the states, a different standard is employed– a much stricter one in which defendants must prove their disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Georgia forces people attempting to invoke the death ineligibility under Atkins v. Virginia, to prove mental retardation, beyond a reasonable doubt, an impossible standard by any meaningful reckoning, especially for psychiatric diagnoses,” Hill’s lawyers argue.

Robert D. Latzman, a clinical psychologist at Georgia State University, told ABC News that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is “an impossible standard to attain.”

The Georgia Supreme Court, which granted Hill a stay of execution last July over concerns about the lethal injection procedure, has upheld Hill’s death sentence based on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In a scathing dissent, three justices lamented that “the state may even execute people who are almost certainly mentally retarded.”

If he is executed, Hill won’t be the first intellectually disabled person to be put to death in the United States. Texas has done so twice in recent years; last August, 54-year-old Marvin Wilson, whose IQ was determined to be 61, was killed by lethal injection, and in June 2011, Milton Mathis, who scored a 62 on the state Department of Corrections IQ exam, was also executed by lethal injection.

Not only would Hill’s execution be unconstitutional, it would also be a violation of international law. Christoph Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, wrote last week in the Guardian that carrying out Hill’s death sentence would be “grotesque and unjust.”

Richard Handspike, the nephew of the man Hill murdered behind bars, wrote in an affidavit that the victim’s family members were never contacted by the district attorney’s office prosecuting the case and that the family feels that a life sentence without parole would be the “appropriate and just resolution,” according to ABC News.

“The death penalty should not be imposed upon Mr. Hill, in spite of what he did,” the affidavit states.

But barring a last-minute reprieve, the state of Georgia will kill Warren Lee Hill at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. He will be the first person executed in Georgia since Troy Davis was put to death on September 21, 2011. Davis, whose conviction for murdering a policeman was seen as highly dubious, is widely believed to have been innocent of the crime for which he was killed.

UPDATE- The Georgia Supreme Court voted 5-2 on Tuesday afternoon to deny a stay of execution for Hill.

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