Will Georgia execute a man who has been found to have an intellectual disability by every single doctor who has examined him? That is the disturbing question in the case of Warren Hill, who faces execution on Monday, July 15. Only the U.S. Supreme Court can intervene to stop the execution now. The Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 landmark case, Atkins v. Virginia, that people with mental retardation required a categorical exemption from the death penalty.
Georgia scheduled Mr. Hill’s execution date despite new findings from doctors who previously testified as State experts that Mr. Hill does not have ‘mental retardation’ (the legal term still used). Earlier this year, these three doctors reviewed Mr. Hill’s case and revised their original diagnoses. Now, every doctor who has examined him agrees that Mr. Hill has mental retardation.
Georgia was the first state to prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded in 1986, laying the groundwork for the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing the execution of people with mental retardation. The Court determined that killing the mentally retarded did not serve the goals of either deterrence or retribution and therefore constituted, “purposeless and needless pain and suffering” thus violating the Eight Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. However, in the case of Warren Hill’s undisputed intellectual disability, Georgia has resoundingly said: So what?
In April, a Georgia court ruled that it could not consider the new doctor findings because of procedural barriers. In fact, no court has ever considered this critical new information on its merits. With Mr. Hill moments away from execution, it is unconscionable that legal technicalities are standing in the way of a fair review of the evidence.
In addition to the unanimous doctor diagnoses, Georgia courts have also repeatedly found that Mr. Hill is intellectually disabled. In 2002, and again in 2012, a Georgia state court judge affirmed that Mr. Hill is a person with mental retardation, but said that Mr. Hill did not meet Georgia’s unique standard for legally proving it – the strictest in the nation. Indeed, Georgia is the only state in the country that requires a defendant to prove mental retardation “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Now, as a result of procedural technicalities and the State’s impossibly strict burden of proof, Georgia risks senselessly executing a person with clear mental retardation.
That is why Mr. Hill’s case has received extensive and diverse outpouring of support from mental health experts, intellectual disability organizations, legal experts, several jurors from the original trial, and even President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter. Notably, the family of the victim also does not wish to see Mr. Hill executed, specifically citing his intellectual disability.
Executing Warren Hill would violate the U.S. Constitution and be a dark stain on the Georgia criminal justice system. The courts should grant a stay of execution to ensure that the State of Georgia does not put to death a mentally retarded man.