Georgia schedules its second execution of January

Georgia scheduled its second execution this month, this one for an intellectually disabled man, despite the man’s unresolved appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court.

A judge signed Warren Hill’s death warrant Friday, three days after Georgia executed Andrew Brannan for murdering a Laurens County deputy. This is Hill’s fourth execution date since 2012.

Hill’s lawyers say he should not be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

The claim has drawn national attention because two judges found him to be intellectually disabled but ruled Hill’s status did not meet Georgia’s stringent disability threshold that would make it unconstitutional to put him to death. Georgia requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of intellectual disability to avoid the death penalty. Twenty-one states require that convicted murderers are ineligible if it is “more likely than not” that they are intellectually disabled.

“All of the states’ experts have agreed, and in fact no expert who has ever examined Mr. Hill disputes, that he has (an) intellectual disability,” said Brian Kammer, Hill’s lawyer. “The only reason that he is now at risk of execution is that Georgia’s standard – requiring capital defendants to prove they have intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt – is not science-based and inherently denies people like Mr. Hill from receiving the protection which the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered.”

While the state moves ahead with Hill’s execution, he has an appeal pending before the Georgia Supreme Court challenging the state’s high threshold for finding someone ineligible for the death penalty. The state Supreme Court can stop the execution to consider the appeal, but if it does not the sentence will be carried out.

Hill was sentenced to die for murdering his cellmate in a state prison more than 23 years ago, where he was serving a life sentence for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend. Hill attacked a sleeping Joseph Handspike with a nail-studded board, claiming Handspike made an unwanted sexual advance.

Hill has seen three execution dates come and go.

He was scheduled to die in 2012. But the Georgia Supreme Court stopped it so his lawyers could challenge a Department of Corrections’ decision to change lethal injection drugs without first getting public comment. The justices ruled against Hill.

A second execution date was set for 2013, but a federal appeals court stopped it so the judges could decide if Hill could file an appeal challenging the circumstances of his trial. They ruled he could not.

A Fulton County judge stopped a third execution, also in 2013, to hear Hill’s challenge of the Georgia law that made secret the source of the state’s lethal injection drugs. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state’s secrecy law.