New Update: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay of execution Tuesday for Georgia inmate Warren Lee Hill just minutes before he was set to die by lethal injection, according to Fox News. This came after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution.
Update: The Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles have both dismissed the appeals of Warren Lee Hill. “The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene in this case and prevent a mentally retarded man from being put to death tonight,” Hill’s attorney Brian Kammer said in reaction to the decisions.
All three doctors who previously ruled that Warren Lee Hill did not fit the criteria for mental retardation have changed their minds, giving Hill’s lawyers a powerful case to convince the Georgia State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening.
The three doctors — Donald Harris, Thomas Sachy and James Gary Carter — were asked to examine Hill in December 2000 by the state Attorney General. They testified at a hearing then that he was “borderline intellectual functioning,” not mentally retarded. But now all three doctors say their initial diagnosis was flawed because it was “extremely and unusually rushed” and “not conducive to an accurate assessment of Mr. Hill’s condition.” In addition, advances in the psychiatric understanding of intellectual disability now convince them that their initial finding was in error.
“I have vastly greater experience as a psychiatrist than I did in 2000, and I have access to better science pertaining to the issues in Mr. Hill’s case,” Sachy said in his affidavit.
“We in the clinical community now better understand that persons with mild mental retardation are capable of such things as holding a job, working under close supervision, buying and driving a car, and so forth,” Harris said. “It is precisely because significant deficits in cognition, judgment and impulse control can be masked by superficial functionality in cases of mild mental retardation that such persons may sometimes not be identified in court proceedings as being intellectually disabled. I believe this has happened in Mr. Hill’s case.”
Last July, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously decided to stay the execution of Hill, now 53, just two hours before he was to be put to death. But the court was not ruling on whether Hill should be executed because he is mentally retarded — that stay was based on the court’s decision to consider a recent change to Georgia’s lethal injection procedure from using a three-drug cocktail to using just one drug.
Georgia had decided last July to change its lethal injection procedure from three drugs to one drug, following the example of states including Texas, the nation’s leader in executions.
In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court said it would consider an appeal filed by Hill’s lawyers over the change in the procedure and why the public was never given a chance to discuss it. But the matter of whether Hill still will have to meet Georgia’s stringent requirement to prove mental retardation was not decided by the court.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that the mentally retarded should not be executed 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.
Hill was to 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 an outpouring of support and outrage, from The New York Times editorial page to former President Jimmy Carter.
Even the family of the victim does 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. That option was not offered to them at trial in 1991. Last July, France, a United Nations official, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for a stay.
The lethal injection issues were resolved by the court on Feb. 4, lifting the stay. If Hill is executed, it would be the first completed death sentence in Georgia since the controversial execution of Troy Davis, who was killed in 2011 despite substantial evidence of his probable innocence.