Georgia to execute man despite claims he is mentally disabled

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 27, 2015 10:54 AM

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia is set to execute a man on Tuesday for the beating death of a fellow inmate, as his lawyers argue that he is mentally disabled and should be spared the death penalty.

Warren Lee Hill, 54, is scheduled to be executed by injection at 7 p.m. His attorneys are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday refused to stop the execution, as did the state Supreme Court last week.

Hill was condemned for beating prisoner Joseph Handspike to death in August 1990. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright.

Five thousand people signed a petition seeking to spare his life and it was presented to the state parole board, his lawyers said.

Hill's supporters include former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the European Union and the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, according to his attorneys.

"It is now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that an unconstitutional execution of a man with lifelong intellectual disability is prevented," Hill's attorney, Brian Kammer, said in a statement.

In 1988, Georgia was the first state to ban the execution of mentally disabled inmates but critics say its standard for proving disability is too strict.

Experts generally define mental disability as having a score of 70 or below on intelligence tests. Hill scored 69 on one intelligence test and in the 70s on others, according to court records.

He has the mental capacity of an 11-year-old, his attorney said.

Hill's lawyers filed affidavits from three doctors who found Hill competent 13 years ago but now believe he is mentally disabled.

Georgia prosecutors say Hill has the capacity to understand his crime, noting that he served in the U.S. Navy and was a father figure to his younger siblings.

Hill’s lawyers want more time to appeal in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that found Florida's IQ test standard for assessing mental disability was too rigid.

Hill would be the fifth U.S. inmate executed this year and the second in Georgia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The high court last week agreed to review Oklahoma's controversial method of execution by lethal injection, which uses a different protocol than Georgia. [ID: nL1N0V2269]

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Bill Trott)