Monday, July 23, 2012

Georgia to Execute Mentally Handicapped Black Man

Georgia to Execute Mentally Handicapped Black Man

By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
5:35 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2012

Murderer Warren Hill will die Monday evening unless his attorneys can find a court that believes his mental capacity is diminished enough that it would be unconstitutional to execute him, or if a judge finds fault with the state's new method of execution.

If he is executed as planned, Hill will be the first in Georgia to be put to death using only one drug — the powerful barbiturate pentobarbital — instead the three that the state has been using in combination since 2008.

Hill still has appeals based on the mental retardation issue pending in the Georgia and U.S. Supreme Courts. And on Monday a Fulton County Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear the issue of the Department of Corrections' sudden change in its lethal injection protocol from three drugs to one drug. Last Tuesday, the day before Hill was initially scheduled to die, the prison system announced it was abandoning the three-drug cocktail — a sedative followed by the paralytic pancuronium bromide and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart. It was replaced with a single drug process, pentobarbital, the same as in six other states [a seventh uses a different sedative].

Later, on Monday evening, there will be vigils held in 11 Georgia cites to express outrage that the state is executing a mentally retarded man.

"In other states, Hill would not face the ultimate punishment due to his disability," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA."Unless the Supreme Court steps in to prevent this execution, the state of Georgia will have committed a terrible injustice."

Hill was condemned for using a nail-studded 2-by-6 board in 1990 to beat to death fellow prisoner Joseph Handspike. At that time Hill was already incarcerated for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend.

The judge presiding over the 1991 trial for Handspike's murder found Hill, with an IQ of 70, was more likely than not to be mentally disabled. But the judge also determined that the lawyer representing Hill at the time had not proven his mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard set in 1988 when Georgia became the first state to prohibit executing the mentally disabled.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court said it has said it is unconstitutional to to execute the mentally retarded who are at "special risk of wrongful execution." But also in that 2002 decision, the justices left it up to the states to determine what was required to show mental retardation; Georgia has the strictest standard.

"Mildly mentally retarded individuals like Warren Hill frequently defy the stereotypical image we often have of persons with the disability in part because they tend to make efforts to hide the symptoms," wrote Hill's attorney, Brian Kammer. He said if a defendant can prove retardation beyond a reasonable doubt, then he is likely so severely retarded that if he went to trial the death penalty would not be an option. "He may even be found incompetent to stand trial. This leaves the majority of mentally retarded persons in the criminal justice system, who are mildly mentally retarded, in the lurch, because it is the mildly mentally retarded whose symptoms can mislead ... about the significance or even the existence of the disability."

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Warren Lee Hill to be Put to Death Tomorrow Despite Retardation

Atlanta Black Star

Tomorrow is D-Day for Warren Lee Hill , the day when he 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 in Hill 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.

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