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 state is stirring debate.
Convicted murderer Warren Lee Hill is slated to die by lethal injection on Monday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. No one is debating whether Hill, 52, beat his prison cellmate to death in 1990 with a board imbedded with nails. But Hill's IQ is 70 — within the range of mental retardation. Advocates for the mentally disabled and death penalty opponents say that means he should not be executed.
"I think in Hill's case, this is really a person who by all law and psychiatric investigation is ineligible for the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, executive director of theDeath Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based organization that analyzes capital punishment issues.
On July 13, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Hill and, as is customary for the panel, did not give a reason. Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, then filed a petition for a rehearing and a motion for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists are planning vigils around the state for the day of the execution, said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. And United Nations Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns, a human rights specialist, is calling on Georgia to halt the execution.
It is the first death-row case in Georgia to draw such attention since the September execution of convicted murderer Davis, who claimed innocence and whose case generated debate worldwide.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned executions of the mentally retarded, calling such deaths unconstitutionally "cruel and unusual." But the court also said states should decide if a convict is mentally retarded.
In 1988, Georgia became the first state to pass a bill barring execution of the mentally retarded. But Georgia also required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is mentally retarded — the strictest burden in the country for showing this.
Those opposed to Hill's execution say that burden is too high.
"He would not be facing execution of he were next-door in Alabama," lawyer Kammer said. "It should be an embarrassment for Georgia."
Amnesty International said it hopes the Supreme Court will stop Hill's execution.
Said Moye: "It comes down to whether the Supreme Court is comfortable allowing the state of Georgia to have this incredibly high standard of defining mental retardation or intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt."
When Hill killed his cellmate, Joseph Handspike, he was serving time for the 1985 murder of his girlfriend, who died after he shot her 11 times. Kammer said that when one meets Hill, it is readily apparent that he suffers from a mental disability.
"It's very difficult for him to express himself, so he just doesn't say a lot," Kammer said. "Part of the tragedy of it is someone with this disability whose deficit involves a lack of communication skills sort of suffers in silence and I see that going on with him."
Dieter said attention given to such cases is on the rise. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich has granted clemency to three inmates since taking office in January 2011, one of whom has borderline intelligence and the other who suffered abuse as a child.
Neither Hill's family nor the family of his cellmate victim could be reached, but according to Kammer, Handspike's nephew, Richard Handspike, wrote an affidavit saying the family believes the death penalty should not be imposed and that life without parole would be an appropriate resolution.
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