‘Intellectually disabled’ man set for execution

Posted at 9:44 PM, Jan 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-26 23:10:00-05

ATLANTA, Ga.  — Twice-convicted murderer Warren Lee Hill is set to be executed in Georgia on Tuesday night, despite pleas from human rights groups and legal representatives who say his intellectual disability should make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Hill has an IQ of approximately 70 and the “emotional capacity of a young boy,” said his attorney, Bill Krammer.

Federal law stemming from a 2002 Virginia case that went to the Supreme Court says executing intellectually disabled individuals violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But the case also allows states to define intellectual disability. In Georgia, that means attorneys for death row inmates have to prove mental impairment “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“This is the strictest standard in any jurisdiction in the nation,” Krammer said.

Krammer, who has represented Hill for 20 years, said in any other state, his client would be serving a life sentence. Hill was sentenced to death in 1990 for killing fellow prison inmate Joseph Handspike, beating him to death with a nail-studded board. At the time, Hill had been serving a life sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his girlfriend Myra Wright.

“We acknowledge that Mr. Hill should be held accountable for his actions and behavior,” Torin Togut, president of The Arc of Georgia, said in a letter written on Hill’s behalf, “However, it is our contention that Mr. Hill, who has an intellectual disability, should not be subject to capital punishment.”

The Arc is a nonprofit organization that advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Hill also has the support of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia NAACP, and former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter.

The victim’s family and former jurors have also expressed support for mercy in Hill’s case, saying they weren’t given the option of life without parole when sentencing him to death.

Krammer said seven doctors agree that his client is intellectually disabled, including one doctor for the state who initially evaluated Hill and said he didn’t meet Georgia’s standard. Krammer said that doctor has since signed an affidavit admitting he felt rushed during his examination and now believes Hill does meet the standard for “intellectually disabled.”

In previous clemency hearings, attorneys for the state have argued that Hill served in the Navy, held a job and managed his money before killing his girlfriend–signs that he didn’t necessarily meet the legal standard for intellectually disabled, even though he has a low IQ.

But Krammer said examples of Hill achieving “self-sufficiency” don’t make a strong case for his execution.

Several of the letters supporting Hill’s clemency cite last year’s Supreme Court decision, which struck down a Florida law that used “unscientific standards for determining intellectual disability,” for death row inmates.

Attorneys tried to use the Hall v. Florida decision as grounds to spare the life of Georgia inmate Robert Wayne Holsey, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a local sheriff’s deputy. Holsey, who also had an IQ of 70 was executed in December.

Hill’s case was presented before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday. A release from the board said it “will make a decision prior to the scheduled execution,” which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.