Georgia pardons board rejects death row inmate's clemency bid

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 16, 2012 11:50 AM
Georgia pardons board rejects death row inmate's clemency bid

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia's pardons board refused on Monday to stop the execution of a two-time murderer whose lawyers argued should have his life spared because he is mentally disabled.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were among those who wrote to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting clemency for Warren Lee Hill, who is set to die by lethal injection on Wednesday for beating another inmate to death in 1990.

At the time of the murder, Hill, 52, was serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his girlfriend.

In a series of failed appeals, Hill's attorneys have argued that his execution should be halted because he suffers from what they termed mental retardation.

The pardons board rejected Hill's clemency petition with little comment. "After considering the request, the Board has voted to deny clemency," it said in a statement.

The decision drew a sharp response from Hill's attorney, who presented testimony at a pardons hearing on Friday from the inmate's family members and a teacher. They said they had seen evidence of Hill's limited mental capacity since his childhood.

"I am horrified and outraged by the Board's decision to deny clemency for Warren Hill, a man found by numerous experts, including the state's experts, as well as the courts to be mentally disabled," said attorney Brian Kammer, who sought to have Hill's sentence reduced to life in prison.

In 1988 Georgia became the first U.S. state to ban the execution of mentally disabled defendants.

But Georgia has one of the toughest standard in the nation for defining mental retardation, requiring proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

Mental retardation is generally defined as having a score of 70 or below on intelligence tests, Dieter said. Hill scored 69 on one test and in the 70s on others, court records show.

"In light of the undisputed evidence that Mr. Hill is more likely than not ‘mentally retarded,' his execution would undermine the State of Georgia's historic leadership in promoting the rights of the developmentally challenged," Carter and his wife wrote in their letter to the pardons board.

Carter, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner and a founder of The Carter Center in Atlanta, has been an outspoken advocate of abolishing the death penalty.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Xavier Briand)