Federal appeals court lifts stay of execution for Georgia death row inmate

Federal appeals court lifts stay of execution for Georgia death row inmate

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Monday lifted [order, PDF] a stay of execution for Georgia death row inmate Warren Hill [JURIST news archive]. The appeals court halted the execution [JURIST report] in February to allow time to consider whether a federal court can reconsider Hill’s case. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court found that Hill’s claim of mental retardation was already presented and that his claim does not address his actual guilt or innocence, meaning that it cannot be further reviewed. Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented:

The Supreme Court has said unequivocally that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to execute a mentally retarded person. … Despite the Supreme Court’s command “that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution ‘places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life’ of a mentally retarded offender,” … the state of Georgia will execute a mentally retarded man when it carries out the
execution of Warren Lee Hill. There is no question that Georgia will be executing a mentally retarded man because all seven mental health experts who have ever evaluated Hill, both the State’s and Hill’s, now unanimously agree that he is
mentally retarded.

Hill’s lawyer said they are exploring their next options [AP report].

Hill was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of a fellow inmate while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend in 1986. His execution has been stayed several times. The Eleventh Circuit granted the latest stay in February, hours after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied [JURIST report] Hills’ petition for certiorari. Hill’s appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] was denied earlier that 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] that the execution of mentally retarded individuals is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment [text].