In February we noted how Warren Hill, a 53-year-old man with severe learning disabilities, was just 30 minutes away from receiving a lethal injection from the state of Georgia when he learned of the stay of execution from the federal appeals court. As of this week, however, a decision by the 11th circuit court has lifted the stay on Hill’s execution. This, despite the fact that 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.
As the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen wrote on the decision to once again see the inmate put to death at the hands of the state of Georgia:
There is nothing typical about what two federal judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did Monday in denying relief to Warren Lee Hill, a mentally ill capital defendant in Georgia who came within hours of being executed earlier this year.
What makes this result so extraordinary — and so unnerving to many who follow capital cases — is the rationale employed by the court in turning down Hill’s request. The 11th Circuit employed an argument that turns on its head the very essence of judicial review. Yes, there was relevant new evidence that Hill is mentally retarded, the judges acknowledged, but that new evidence didn’t create a new “claim.” And since there was no new “claim,” they concluded, Congress precluded them from allowing Hill’s evidence to be evaluated on its merits.
The decision here is important and terrifying: in the name of finality, as opposed to, say, justice, Georgia will put this man to death. As Cohen points out, “Such logic is a perversion of justice — and of the role of the appellate judge — because it precludes the ability of the reviewing court to remedy material mistakes made during the course of a case.”