Execution of ‘mentally retarded’ Warren Hill still set for Tuesday

With his execution set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, twice convicted murderer Warren Hill awaits word from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on his second request for a reprieve even as public opinion from around the world is galvanizing in his favor after the experts who said he was mentally fit for execution have reversed their opinions.

“The board has received the petition from the representatives of Warren Hill and the matter is under review,” according to a statement from the Parole Board issued late Monday afternoon.

The board, most likely the only chance Hill has of avoiding lethal injection, is planning to spend much of Tuesday focusing on another execution planned for later in the week. Advocates for convicted murderer Andrew Cook and for his victims have appointments to meet with the Parole Board Tuesday morning.

All the while, worldwide media coverage has focused on Hill’s claims that he is mentally retarded, the phrase used in court filings, and it would be unconstitutional to execute him.

Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned executing the mentally retarded but left it to each state to set the standards for finding someone intellectually deficient. Georgia’s burden of proof is high — “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In 1990, Hill was serving a life sentence for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend Myra Wright by shooting her 11 times four years earlier, when he killed his cellmate Joseph Handspike.

Inmate witnesses testified the attack on Handspike, also a convicted murderer came a few days after Handspike had made threatening gestures of a sexual nature. Handspike was asleep when Hill began his attack with a nail-studded board. Witnesses testified it looked like Hill was chopping wood as he bludgeoned Handspike, saying, “You ain’t bad now.”

Three experts testified in Hill’s death penalty trial that he was mentally able to the extent that he knew right from wrong. The prosecution’s contention that Hill was not mentally deficient was reinforced by relatives who testified that Hill often was a leader of the family and had stepped in as head of the family when his father died.

But the experts who testified against Hill have now reversed themselves. The three said in affidavits that their analysis were rushed and they are now experienced in diagnosing mental disabilities in criminals.

Now, those experts say, Hill has an IQ of no more than 70 and is mentally retarded beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The prospect of executing an intellectually disabled person is shocking to the conscience,” said Sara Totonchi of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “So it is not at all surprising that Mr. Hill’s case has once again generated a global response to Georgia’s horrific death penalty system.”

The Guardian in London reported on Sunday “the world community is again watching Georgia with great concern as it prepares to carry out another grotesque and unjust execution.”

The Agence France Presse quoted an editorial written by Christof Heyns, a professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and expert for the United Nations on “arbitrary” executions, in which he wrote “there is no sense and no honor in executing children, the insane and those who suffer from intellectual disability.”

Reuters has distributed articles about Hill’s case and there have been stories in Iran, Russia and Germany. National news outlets in the United States have reported the controversy around the execution of Hill.

Hill’s lawyer also has asked the courts for mercy but so far those appeals have failed despite his claim of the “new evidence” from the experts, who worked for the state.

Hill’s appeals have failed at every level of the judicial system.

And on Monday, he lost again when he asked a state court judge to stop the execution based on “new evidence,” the revised statements of the three mental retardation experts who testified for the prosecution.

The judge said no, reasoning that the “‘new evidence’ does not establish a miscarriage of justice.”

If his execution is carried out, Hill will be the first man Georgia executes using only one drug, a massive dose of the sedative pentobarbital, instead of the three-drug cocktail that has been used in 29 other lethal injections. It was that last-minute change in July that led the Georgia Supreme Court to spare Hill last summer. The justices wanted time to consider if the Department of Corrections had to take public comment on the proposed change before abandoning the use of two hard-to-find drugs — one that paralyzed the sedated inmate and the final one that stopped his heart.

On Feb. 2, the Georgia Supreme Court said the state had the authority to abandon the three-drug method without taking public comment, and two days later Hill’s Tuesday execution was scheduled.

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