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Federal and state courts each order stay of execution of Georgia death row inmate

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Tuesday issued a stay [text, PDF] on the execution of Georgia death row inmate Warren Hill minutes before his execution. The court granted the stay [opinion, PDF] to allow time to consider the implications of the court now finding that Hill, 53, is in fact intellectually challenged with an IQ of 70. Specifically, the court asked for the parties to address if Hill could have presented this fact before and if this finding would have caused no reasonable jury could have found him guilty and whether Hill's claim for protection has already been addressed in another proceeding. In addition to the Eleventh Circuit's ruling, a Court of Appeals of Georgia [official website] granted [Guardian report] a concurrent stay of Hill's execution. The state court granted the stay to consider an appeal by Hill regarding the recent change by the Georgia Department of Corrections to its lethal injection protocol, the traditional three-drug "cocktail" having been replaced with a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted the say hours after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied [JURIST report] his petition for certiorari. Hill's appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] was denied early this month. In July the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously granted a stay of execution [JURIST report] 90 minutes before Hill was scheduled to be executed, in order to consider the state's new single-dose lethal injection protocol. In a separate order the court also denied Hill's request to hear his appeal of a Butts County Superior Court ruling, which held that Hill had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt [JURIST report] that he is mentally disabled, and that the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard itself is constitutional. The US Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia [opinion; Cornell LII backgrounder] that the execution of intellectually disabled individuals is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment [text].

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