Clemency considered for death inmate found mentally disabled
By Bill Rankin | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Twenty-four years after Georgia became the first in the nation to ban the execution of the mentally disabled, the state is scheduled to put to death a man deemed so by a judge.
Special Warren Lee Hill is set to die by lethal injection on Wednesday.
Warren Lee Hill is set to die by lethal injection Wednesday for fatally bludgeoning a fellow prison inmate with a nail-studded, 2-by-6 wooden board. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence at a southwest Georgia prison for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend.
Georgia enacted the groundbreaking law banning the execution of those who meet the legal criteria for mental retardation in 1988, more than a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the practice nationwide.
Hill's problem is that a judge found him more likely than not to be mentally disabled. Georgia's law requires capital defendants to clear a far more difficult legal threshold — proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will hear Hill's clemency request Friday for a sentence of life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, state and national advocacy groups for people with developmental disabilities are urging the board to commute his death sentence.
"As Georgia has recognized for almost a quarter of a century, it would be inhumane to execute Warren Hill," Rita Young and Lesa Hope, from All About Developmental Disabilities in Decatur, wrote the board.
In their own letter to the parole board, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn said Hill's execution "would undermine the state of Georgia's historic leadership in promoting the rights of the developmentally challenged."
The parole board has not said when it would issue its decision.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks capital cases nationwide, said he knew of no other case comparable to Hill's. Forty-four people with evidence of mental retardation have been executed since 1976, but that was before the Supreme Court's ban in 2002, he said.
"Generally, once a judge makes a decision that an inmate is mentally retarded, the execution is not allowed," Dieter said.
State Attorney General Sam Olens declined to comment. But his office, in a statement, said Hill has failed to prove he is mentally disabled.
Hill was not labeled "mentally retarded" when he attended school. He was considered a "leader" of his family, and he was promoted to the rank of petty officer after enlisting in the Navy, the office said. The office also cited testimony of state experts who determined Hill was not mentally disabled after finding he was malingering during evaluations.
Hill's lawyers say that a judge's determination that Hill is mentally disabled has never been contested. Hill's IQ is "approximately 70," which is the considered the dividing line for mental disability although other factors are considered as well, his clemency petition says.
The petition includes a statement from two of Hill's former grade school teachers who said it was "obvious" to them that Hill was mentally disabled. "He was virtually non-communicative, very withdrawn, did not interact with his schoolmates and could not read or write at grade level."
The Georgia Legislature enacted the law banning the execution of the mentally disabled in response to a public backlash to the 1986 execution of Jerome Bowden, who had an IQ of about 65.
The 1988 law requires capital defendants to prove "mental retardation" beyond a reasonable doubt, the toughest legal threshold and the same burden of proof required to convict someone of a crime. Today, Georgia is the only state in the country that sets such a high threshold.
Superior Court Judge John Allen, when presiding over Hill's case in 2002, found Hill was mentally disabled by a preponderance of the evidence, a less stringent standard used by almost two dozen states with the death penalty. Allen also declared that Georgia's beyond-a-reasonable-doubt threshold to be fundamentally unfair because it ensures the state will execute capital defendants who are more likely than not mentally disabled.
But the Georgia Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court left it up to the states to set their own standards when it banned the execution of the mentally disabled in 2002. Because Georgia's Legislature imposed the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, it is "within constitutional bounds," the ruling said. A federal appeals court last November said it could not strike down Georgia's law — "even if we believe it incorrect or unwise."
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hill's last appeal, triggering his scheduled execution.
According to testimony, Hill mocked Joseph Handspike while beating him to death. Handspike, who was serving life for a Fulton County murder, made threatening gestures of a sexual nature to Hill in the days leading up to the killing, inmate witnesses have said.
In a June 18 letter to the parole board, Handspike's nephew, Richard Handspike, said prosecutors did not contact the Handspike family about the decision to seek the death penalty. If they had, the family would have opposed it, he wrote.
Handspike also told the board his family "feels strongly that persons with any kind of significant mental disabilities should not be put to death. ... We do not want Mr. Hill to be executed and we believe a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate and just resolution of this case."
State sets execution for inmate judged mentally disabled . By Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution The state of Georgia has scheduled the execution of Warren Hill, who sits on death row even... more
More calls for death row inmate Warren Hill to be spared By Christopher Seward The Atlanta Journal-Constitution July 7, 2012 The cause of Georgia death row inmate Warren Hill, who faces execution... more
GA: Warren Hill -Warren Hill - Clemency considered Petra.,Sat Jul 14 15:51
Monday, July 16, 2012 Parole board denies clemency to inmate found mentally disabled By Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution The State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday denied clemency... more
July 16, 2012 @ 1:34 | NYT Death Penalty Death Watch Unreasonable Doubt By ANDREW ROSENTHAL The state of Georgia seems confused. It doesn’t seem to get when it’s reasonable to expect proof “beyond a... more
Georgia rushes to carry out executions before lethal drug supply expires State's entire supply of pentobarbital runs out on March 1 with Georgia seeking permission from courts to block legal delays • ... more
Court lifts execution stay; st- ate out of lethal-injection drugs Posted: 10:13 a.m. Tuesday, April 23, 2013 BY BILL RANKIN - THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION The federal appeals court in Atlanta has ... more
EDITORIAL Final Plea for Mercy Published: February 13, 2013 Warren Lee Hill Jr., with an I.Q. of 70, is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday in Georgia. The Supreme Court should stay the execution, as ... more
Georgia will violate both justice and the constitution if it executes Warren Hill State law prohibits applying the death penalty to the 'mentally retarded', yet Georgia plows ahead, ignoring Hill's... more
Jul 17, 2012 3:00pm Supreme Court Appeal on Mental Illness Standard in Death Penalty Case The Supreme Court is considering an emergency appeal today filed on the behalf of a Georgia death row inmate... more
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 State experts change opinions in condemned killer’s case By Bill Rankin Three experts used by the state to prove condemned killer Warren Hill was not mentally disabled — and... more
Georgia prisoner facing execution Tuesday By Matt Smith, CNN February 19, 2013 -- Updated 2126 GMT (0526 HKT) (CNN) -- Warren Lee Hill, whose defenders say he is mentally disabled, is scheduled to... more
Ga. executes man who killed college students 12:38a.m. EST February 22, 2013 JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — Georgia has executed a 38-year-old inmate convicted of killing two college students in 1995. Andrew... more
Warren Hill supporters call for late stay of execution for mentally ill prisoner Georgia set to execute Hill, who has been diagnosed with severe learning difficulties, in spite of criticism from... more
Ten reasons why Georgia should not execute Warren Hill Since the Guardian first listed in July the reasons why Hill – who has been classified as mentally disabled – should not be executed, the case... more
Posted: 11:44 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 Warren Hill stay of execution stands The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Georgia attorney general’s request to lift a stay of execution a federal appeals... more
Prisoner on death row appeals to Ga. Supreme Court KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press Updated 04:13 p.m., Friday, July 20, 2012 ATLANTA (AP) — A lawyer for a Georgia prison inmate set to be executed... more
Clemency considered for death inmate found mentally disabled By Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution July 12, 2012 Twenty-four years after Georgia became the first in the nation to ban the... more
Georgia aims to defy Supreme Court by executing mentally disabled prisoner By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian Friday, July 13, 2012 18:00 EDT A death row prisoner in Georgia who has been officially... more
07/17/2012 U.S. Death Penalty A Tale of Three States: Executing the Mentally Disabled By Brian Stull, Capital Punishment Project at 3:54pm Georgia: On Monday, the State of Georgia stands ready to... more
Un in last-minute death row appeal to US States GENEVA July 17 Sapa-AFP | 17 Juli, 2012 18:57 The entrance to death row is i Image by: LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS A UN human rights official on Tuesday... more
Georgia inmate's impending execution stirs controversy By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY July 22, 2012 Ten months after the Troy Davis execution turned eyes on Georgia, another death-row case in the... more