Disabled death row inmate Warren Lee Hill Jr.’s attorney filed an appeal with Georgia’s Supreme Court Friday to prevent Hill from being executed Monday.
This week, which was scheduled to be Hill’s last, included several turns of events: additional legal action, execution protocol changes and a cause championed by human rights watchdogs.
Although IQ testing determined that Hill’s score of 70 is within the mental retardation threshold, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Hill’s clemency request on July 16.
Then the Georgia Department of Corrections announced that it would delay Hill’s execution from July 18 until July 23 to make adjustments to the lethal injection process (using one sedative instead of three for injections).
Hill was already serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend when he was found guilty of killing a prison inmate and sentenced to death in 1990.
However, according to Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, if Hill’s ideal scenario comes to fruition, the Supreme Court will intervene so that Hill faces a life sentence instead of death.
Kammer spoke with Politic365 about the case. He said that Hill’s cognition is significantly subpar and that with mild retardation, sometimes, people perceive normalcy on behalf of the disabled because many intellectually impaired people can perform daily tasks such as driving, while possessing maladaptive coping skills.
The attorney said that people without intellectual disabilities often take for granted their ability to “roll with” life’s challenges without having as difficult a time as people with cognitive difficulties. A person without a cognitive disability would usually experience stressors and function normally, while someone who is disabled experiences stressors differently. That response difference is when things can become “catastrophic”, according to Kammer.
He emphasized that contrary to popular belief, when a disabled person acts on his/her cognitive deficits it is not synonymous with insanity.
But, some could argue the craziness of Georgia’s burden of proof for mental retardation. It’s the only state in the US requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Any psychiatric diagnosis is virtually impossible to prove,” Kammer said.
Therein lies the issue for Hill’s fate. If it is impossible to prove an absolute intellectual disability, some cry foul onthe legality and morality of putting someone who isintellectually disabled, more likely than not, to death for criminal activity.
The Eighth Amendment protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment. That same amendment was used when the Supreme Court banned the executionof intellectually disabled people in 2002’s Atkins. v. Virginia.
Hill’s appeal referenced Atkins. It states, “Atkins commands that states protect all mentally retarded persons — at ‘special risk of wrongful execution’ because of their disabilities – by ‘appropriate’ procedures, which, perforce must not create an ‘undue risk of an erroneous determination.’”
Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently picked up the case as a cause.
On the death penalty, Human Rights Watch wrote,“This form of punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.”
Amnesty International, an organization centered on fighting injustice and promoting human rights, also opposes executing Hill.
The international impact on cases like Hill’s is also of note, as the United Nations Economic and Social Council passed a resolution that recommended member states begin to “eliminate the death penalty for persons suffering from mental retardation or extremely limited mental competence, whether at the stage of sentence or execution” in 1989.
As global citizens engage the news and social media in response to it,
Kammer cited social media support for the case. Heencouraged death penalty opponents to engage their networks about the case and request a life sentence for Hill.
While advocacy on behalf of Hill continues, his victims, Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike, are also remembered.
The correlation between cognition and consequence remains in question. Kammer insisted that Hill’s disability impairs his judgment, but doesn’t encapsulate his emotions.The counselor said that Hill does not like for people to peer past his mask, but recently broke down crying during an interview.
“He is extremely remorseful. He is cognizant that he did wrong.”