Warren Hill, a 53-year-old death row inmate with severe learning disabilities, was just 30 minutes away from receiving a lethal injection from the state of Georgia Tuesday evening when he learned of the stay of execution from the federal appeals court for the 11th circuit.
As Salon noted on Monday, all medical specialists who have examined Hill — a death row inmate of 16 years — have now concluded that he is unfit to face the death penalty. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling prohibits executions of “mentally retarded” prisoners as a breach of constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. Hill has nonetheless twice been within hours of scheduled death since 2011 before an appeals court has ordered a stay. Georgia is noted by experts as having a problematically high bar for proving mental unfitness for execution.
The Guardian noted how Hill’s case has prompted less public outrage than Georgia’s execution in 2011 of Troy Davis — a man put to death for murder despite the majority of witnesses in his trial recanting their original testimonies:
Hill had been scheduled to be executed at 7pm at the same prison where Troy Davis was put to death in September 2011 amid massive international outcry. Davis’s death, despite substantial evidence of his innocence, prompted dramatic scenes at the prison where hundreds of protesters were confronted by armed Swat police armed with a police helicopter flying overhead.
Hill’s scheduled execution attracted a comparatively small response, with few protesters and campaigners present in the prison grounds as the appointed hour approached. This was the second time in seven months that Hill has come close to the death chamber: last July he was spared by just 90 minutes and the experience was repeated on Tuesday night with just 30 minutes to go.