Execution of "mentally retarded" man moves ahead

A federal court refused to delay the pending execution in Georgia, leaving it all up to the Supreme Court

By Alex Seitz-Wald
Published July 10, 2013 5:15PM (EDT)

Warren Hill, the Georgia death row inmate set to be executed in five days despite a state law and U.S. Supreme Court decision that bars killing people deemed "mentally retarded," lost his penultimate appeal yesterday when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his lawyer's plea for a delay until the Supreme Court can evaluate the case. Now, Hill's only hope is that the high court stops the execution before Monday evening.

“The U.S. Supreme Court is the only court which can grant an urgently needed stay to prevent an unconstitutional execution," Hill's attorney, Brian Kammer, said. "Every doctor who has examined Mr. Hill confirms the diagnosis of mental retardation. If our Constitution, the Eighth Amendment, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia are the law of our land, then Mr. Hill’s execution must be stopped, until the Court is able to consider all of the information, which clearly establishes his mental retardation.”

Indeed, as we noted Friday, despite clear-cut prohibitions against executing people deemed mentally retarded, and despite the fact that almost everyone agrees Hill meets that qualification, his execution has proceeded thanks to a series of unfortunate legal realities. Georgia has the toughest standard for proving mental retardation in the country, as the only state that requires proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental organization of 47 member countries, wrote today to Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that it grant clemency to Hill. "There can be no doubt that Mr Hill has been convicted for what is an extremely serious crime," Thorbjørn Jagland wrote. Hill murdered his girlfriend and then, while serving a prison sentence for that crime, killed a fellow inmate. But "[t]he execution of persons with mental retardation contravenes international legal standards." The U.S. is an "observer state" to the CoE.

The American Bar Association is also calling for a delay. "A stay of execution is not only appropriate in these compelling circumstances -- it is what justice demands in order to prevent an unconscionable result," the legal organization's president, Laurel Bellows, said. The execution is scheduled for July 15.

Alex Seitz-Wald

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Criminal Justice Criminal Justice System Death Penalty Federal Courts Supreme Court Warren Hill