Last hope to stop execution of Warren Hill

Georgia has set an execution date of 15 July for Warren Lee Hill, Jr. This is not the first time that a date has been set.

Stays have been granted on previous occasions. Questions focus on his mental capacity.

Amnesty International reports that experts who have assessed Hill now say that he has ‘mental retardation’, which would make his
execution unconstitutional. His lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to step in.

Hill was serving time for the murder of his girl friend, Myra Wright, when he was convicted of killing Joseph Handspike, another inmate, and sentenced to death. There is no question of his guilt.

The question in this case, beyond those in any execution, revolves around Hill’s mental capacity. His IQ is reported to be 70. This raises the question of his mental capacity and his awareness to understand his acts.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of capacity in the 2002 decision Atkins. v. VirginiaThe American Psychological Association summarizes that decision as follows:

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Court cited the growing number of states prohibiting the execution of persons with mental retardation as a reflection of society’s view that offenders considered to have mental retardation are categorically less culpable than the average criminal. The Court also reasoned that it was “not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty.”

However, Georgia has a high standard of proof for proving mental retardation: the standard of proving mental incapacitation beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia does not believe that standard has been met in Hill’s case.

Amnesty International notes that Hill’s lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to stop the execution. Several US law professors have filed a brief arguing that this is a case in which the Court should take this unusual step of exercising the Court’s power to consider “original habeas petitions” (in exceptional circumstances to take a case brought directly to it rather than on appeal from a lower court).

Amnesty International asks that those concerned about this case write immediately – before 15 July – to the Attorney General of Georgia. Letters should:

  • Note that  all seven experts who have assessed Warren Hill now agree that he has mental retardation, which would render his execution unconstitutional; and
  • ask the Attorney General to concede this and to support the petition for Supreme Court intervention.

The Honorable Sam Olens, Attorney General of Georgia
40 Capitol Square, SW
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 8733
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Copies of the letter should go to:
Governor Nathan Deal
Georgia State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 7332

I grieve for Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike and for their family and friends.  There can be no defense for Hill’s crimes.

But that is not all the story. What does it say about our society – about us – that we resort to execution in the case of an individual with the mental capacity and awareness of Hill? Can we not find another way?

See you along the Trail.



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Filed under Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty, Human Rights

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