Execution Stay: Legal, Ethical Fight Continues Over Warren Hill

Execution Stay: Legal, Ethical Fight Continues Over Warren Hill


The state of Georgia’s battle to execute a mentally handicapped man, Warren Lee Hill, continues.  Georgia has appealed to the United States Supreme Court over Hill’s latest stay of execution.

The state entered a motion Wednesday to prevent “further briefing on [Hill’s] request” to file a second federal petition regarding mental handicap claims. Georgia’s warden argued procedural issues, saying that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay was “improvidently granted” because Hill’s defense of an intellectual handicap had already been raised.

Even so, the state Court of Appeals also granted a stay for a lethal-injection protocol challenge.  Last summer Georgia switched from a three-drug execution cocktail to one, Pentobarbital, which is used to put cats and dogs to sleep.

Hill’s counsel, Brian Kammer, contended that with three doctors recanting on their previous statements about Hill’s handicap, the issue remains. One of the doctors, Dr. Thomas Sachy, reached out to Kammer to alter his evaluation of Hill. The result was agreement from all doctors who evaluated Hill that he is mentally handicapped.

Further consideration of Hill’s subaverage IQ, along with the now medically undisputed fact of his disability, and the rushed process that doctors were subjected to in satisfying evaluations for the state, could make more sense of Hill’s violent crimes. He was serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, when he also killed a prison inmate.

With federal and state issues encircling Hill’s case, many wondered why the Supreme Court did not entertain the litigation.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen wrote that it was unclear whether the Supreme Court “did so because they have no interest in his cause, and thus no interest in defending Atkins [the constitutional case barring the execution of mentally handicapped people]; or because they were aware of two other stays issued around the same time.”

Although Atkins was decided in 2002, state rights allow wiggle room for definitions and standards of proof regarding intellectual disability. Georgia has the strictest standard of proof –beyond a reasonable doubt– for mental retardation in the US.

Despite two dodged executions, attorneys duking it out via documents, and global scrutiny of Georgia’s execution practices, some looked beyond ethical implications and mental handicaps. What of the judicial system’s tennis match with an inmate’s mortality?

The Guardian reported Southern Center for Human Rights staffer Sara Totonchi’s take.

“This is the cruelest thing imaginable, to put the prisoner and his family through this emotional rollercoaster.”