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The Death Row Torture of Warren Hill

The Death Row Torture of Warren Hill

AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White

Rania Khalek, in her article, “The Death Row Torture of Warren Hill: When a prisoner faces the execution chamber four times in one year, is it not cruel and unusual punishment?” which appeared in The Nation on August 14, 2013, exposes the cruel nature of capital punishment by showing the repetitive and unsettling “stay of execution” cycle. Khalek explores the case of Warren Hill, a man who received four stays of execution within a few hours of his scheduled death—all in the course of a year—creating an almost permanent state of uncertainty as to whether he will live or die.

Warren Hill is a man with an IQ of 70, whose death sentence is constitutionally questionable given the 2002 Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia which places a categorical ban on executing the mentally disabled.  The court, however, left it up to the states to determine how to implement their decision, and Georgia has the strictest (one might say next to impossible) standard for proving mental retardation. Despite the fact that every doctor who has examined Mr. Hill agrees that he is mentally impaired, the state of Georgia has attempted to execute Mr. Hill four times and each time he has received a stay of execution.

Human rights experts consider repeated last-minute trips to the death chamber followed by reprieves a form of psychological torture. The burden on Warren Hill’s family is also great: they have had to deal with the near-constant stress of their loved one’s life being taken by the state.

Warren Hill’s predicament does not exist in a vacuum. Human rights advocates have as of late been concerned with all aspects of a phenomenon termed “Death Row Syndrome”: the psychological conditions and immense suffering that result from America’s death row. Warren Hill will go through this entire process yet again as Georgia again prepares to kill him. His lawyer, Brian Kammer, said that he could “hear the tension” in Hill’s voice and that “in a sane world you wouldn’t put anyone through this kind of misery and insanity…the anticipation of being killed [is] hard for anyone to handle. It’s even more cruel for someone who’s mentally disabled.”

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