25 July, 2012

Warren Lee Hill ~ USA ~ State of Georgia ~ Capital punishment

The execution, by injection of a single drug, of Warren Hill (aged 52) was stayed by the Supreme Court of Georgia, USA- see The Guardian Monday 23rd July

Hill was sentenced to death in 1991 after a Lee County jury convicted him of murder in the 1990 bludgeoning to death of a fellow prison inmate, Joseph Handspike. At the time, Hill was serving a life prison sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Sylvia Wright.

Irrespective of general arguments relating to whether the death penalty should be used at all, there are particular reasons why Hill should not be executed.  The arguments are well summarised in an article in The Guardian 23rd July .  The State of Georgia was the first State in the USA to ban the execution of mentally disabled prisoners.  However, the problem lies in the standard of proof demanded by Georgia.  The prisoner has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he has learning difficulties.  It appears that Georgia is the only State to apply this high standard.  Other States which continue to apply the death penalty would not carry out an execution where the disability was shown on the "preponderance of the evidence."  Hill has met the latter test.

As the Guardian article states: -
"Hill shows many of the classic signs of intellectual disability. He has a family history of learning difficulties and borderline intellectual functioning, though the jury at his 1991 trial heard little about that. In terms of IQ, he tests 70 – a sub-average level of functioning shared by only 3% of the general population. Such challenges render him subject to impulsive behaviour and poor decision making at times of stress and threat."
Supreme Court of Georgia

The announcement of the stay by the Supreme Court of Georgia is available - Warren Lee Hill ~ Press release 23rd July. However, the stay of execution is to allow an appeal by Hill on whether the Department of Corrections’ recent change to the lethal injection procedure – by replacing the three-drug cocktail with one drug – was a decision subject to the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, which requires public hearings before the change is made.

In a separate decision, announced here, the Georgia Supreme Court, by a majority, refused to hear an appeal against the view of the lower court that the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard was constitutional.  Justice Robert Benham dissented stating: - "I cannot join in any ruling by this Court that would allow the execution of Warren Hill, Jr., who has been found by a preponderance of the evidence to have a mental disability.”  (In April 2012, Justice Robert Benham received an "Award in Justice" - Court announcement).

Justices of the Georgia Supreme Court are elected.  An interesting discussion about the 2012 elections may be seen at The Madison Forum 29th May.

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