Execution date set for Warren Hill

A Lee County judge has signed a warrant setting July 13 as a new execution date for Warren Hill, a mentally retarded man whose appeal is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Previous executions were stopped by courts wanting to consider if he could be executed because of his mental defect. Hill has an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to consider whether his mental retardation makes him illegible for lethal injection.

Though the justices have it on their Sept. 30 calendar to discuss whether to take the case, the state sought an execution warrant.

Also, Georgia is out of its lethal injection drug and it is becoming difficult for states to secure the powerful sedative pentobarbital, which could mean capital punishment states may have to turn to compounding pharmacies for supply. But as of Monday, state law made the providers of lethal injection drugs a secret.

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A month ago, the federal appeals court in Atlanta, in a 2-1 decision, rejected Hill’s mental retardation claims, saying they had already been considered and rejected.

Hill was serving a life sentence in the same prison for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend when he beat to death another inmate, John Handspike, in 1990.

Hill’s case has attracted international attention because three state experts who previously testified that Hill was faking his mental disabilities have come forward over the past year and said they were mistaken. The doctors —- two psychiatrists and a psychologist —- described their evaluations of Hill more than a decade ago as rush jobs. They said an improved understanding of mental disabilities led them to believe Hill is mildly mentally retarded.

In 1988, when Georgia became the first state to ban the executions of the mentally retarded, it required capital inmates to prove their mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia is the only state in the country that sets such a high burden of proof.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the execution of the mentally retarded unconstitutional nationwide, ruling it violates the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. But the high court left it up to each state to decide how the determination should be made.

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