UPDATE: Per Mother Jones, “The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Warren Hill a stay of execution, according to his lawyers.”
Despite the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling that it is unconstitutional to put someone who is mentally handicapped to death, the state of Georgia is planning to execute a man with an IQ of 70 on Tuesday evening.
Warren Hill is “mildly mentally retarded,” according to doctors. Hill was serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend in 1989 when he killed his cellmate with a wooden board. By then, Georgia had outlawed the death penalty for the mentally handicapped, but Hill was condemned to death row because the state requires defendants to prove they’re developmentally disabled “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
One of the reasons Hill was sentenced to death is a set of letters purportedly written by Hill to his lawyer and family members that demonstrated he had a “higher level of mental competence” than he’d shown during his examination. However, doctors now believe that someone else wrote those letters.
Barring court intervention, Hill will be executed at 7 p.m. local time.
Hill’s appeal rests mostly on a single compelling point: The team of state doctors who originally concluded he qualified for capital punishment has completely reversed itself, citing their own inexperience (one of them had never evaluated a patient for mental retardation before) and advances in the field. As one member of the team, Dr. Thomas Sachy, put it in Hill’s application for a sentence commutation:
The totality of evidence shows that far from “malingering a cognitive disorder,” Mr. Hill has had a cognitive disorder with adaptive skill deficits since early childhood. He consistently tested in the 2-3 percentile in childhood achievement and intelligence testing, consistent with mild mental retardation. There was no dispute in 2000 among the clinicians who had evaluated Mr. Hill that he has an IQ of approximately 70. There is also evidence of significant deficits in such areas of his functioning as self-care, functional academics, interpersonal skills, and home living since prior to age 18.
...Georgia isn’t the only state that has found its way around Atkins v. Virginia, the 2002 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally handicapped violates the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In August, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, who sucked his thumb into adulthood and couldn’t tell the difference between left and right, on the basis of mental competence guidelines that were inspired by the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men.