Monday, July 23, 2012

The Execution of Warren Hill

Update: With 90 minutes to spare, the Georgia Supreme Court stayed the execution of Warren Hill. The decision was made based on the recent change of procedure from a 3-drug cocktail for lethal injection to the use of only pentobarbitol. According to the Georgia Supreme Court, this change in process may be a violation of Georgia Administrative Procedure Act.

This evening a man by the name of Warren Hill is scheduled to be executed by the state of Georgia. He was originally scheduled to be executed last week, but the execution was postponed until today to give the prison enough time to prepare for an execution with their new single-drug procedure.

Hill's fate now hinges on a court, perhaps the United States Supreme Court, finding that his mental capacity makes his execution unconstitutional according to Atkins v. Virginia (2002). In Atkins, the Court found by a margin of 6-3 that the execution of the mentally retarded is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The generally accepted definition of mental retardation includes three criteria: 1) An IQ below 70; 2) Significant limitations in 2 or more areas of adaptive behavior; and, 3) Evidence that said limitations began in childhood. A Georgia court has determined that Hill's IQ is 70, but Georgia state law requires that the prisoner's defense prove beyond a reasonable doubt that mental retardation does exist. This requirement is, as the New York Times wrote in their editorial on the issue, an "unfairly heavy burden" on the inmate. Last week, the state of Texas executed a man with diagnosed brain damage. Texas, like Georgia, is granted the decision-making authority when it comes to mentally disabled inmates and whether their mental deficiency meets the standard set in Atkins. Since the 2002 ruling by SCOTUS, the states have each taken their own approach to determining the mental capacity of death row inmates. Unfortunately, not all of them have made the appropriate decision.

A personal observation: I don't know Warren Hill and I don't know a great deal about the crimes for which he was sentenced to death. However, I have known hundreds of mentally disabled children and adults in my life, many of them with an IQ of or near 70. Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders places an IQ of 70 as the division between borderline intellectual functioning and mild mental retardation, make no mistake about it, these individuals are unquestionably disabled. With an IQ of 70, Warren Hill, at best, functions with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Last I checked, we do not execute children in this country. As I've thought about the individuals I have known who are by all means adults, but function at the level of a 12-year-old, it makes me physically sick to imagine them sentenced to death for any crime they might commit. The thought of a man in Georgia whom I have never met being executed, regardless of his crimes, reminds me of every one of those people I've met in my own life who share Hill's inability to appreciate or understand the magnitude and consequences of their actions.

Warren Hill has been denied clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole and the pleas of organizations across the country for his death sentence to be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole have fallen on deaf ears. His execution is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight (EST).

May the state of Georgia change course before this action is irreversable. And should Georgia not fully realize the message of Atkins v. Virginia, may the United States Supreme Court intervene.

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