Warren Hill Too Mentally Disabled To Execute, But …

Warren Hill

Warren Hill

Warren Hill, who came within an hour of being executed by the state of Georgia in February, has filed a habeas petition at the US Supreme Court.  It was the Supreme Court that banned execution of those with “mental retardation“ in 2002, although it was left to the states to decide how to determine a defendant’s intellectual disability.

As you may recall from previous posts, Warren Hill was found to be “mentally retarded” by a “preponderance of the evidence” by a Georgia state judge. This finding would have exempted him from execution in other states. But Georgia, and only Georgia, requires proof of “mental retardation” to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Earlier this year, the three mental health experts who had originally testified for the state – thereby creating “reasonable doubt” about Hill’s “mental retardation” claim – took a second, deeper look, and they now agree that Hill is in fact disabled to the extent that it would be unconstitutional to execute him. So now that all 7 experts who have examined him are of the unanimous opinion that Hill is “mentally retarded,” his lawyers have gone back to court to establish that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold has been reached.

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The Shameful Spectacle Of Georgia’s Death Penalty

warren hill

Warren Hill

Less than half an hour before he was to be put to death, and after he had taken a sedative to prepare for his execution, Warren Hill was granted two simultaneous stays of execution – by a state court on a challenge to the method of his execution, and by the federal 11th circuit court of appeals on the substantive issue of his “mental retardation.”

Warren Hill has an IQ of 70 and has been declared by a state judge to be “mentally retarded” by a preponderance of the evidence. In other states, that would mean his execution would be an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.  But not in Georgia, where a prisoner must prove his “mental retardation” beyond a reasonable doubt, a virtual impossibility given the inexact science of measuring mental disability.

Add to this the fact that the victim’s family and several of the jurors from his trial now oppose his execution, and one wonders: why is the state of Georgia – which is seeking to lift the stays – trying so hard to kill Warren Hill?  Who is this execution for?

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Warren Hill Faces Execution In Georgia Again

Georgia is set to carry out an unconstitutional execution while the prisoner’s case is still pending at the US Supreme Court. The high court, as a guardian of the rule of law in this country, must not let this happen. They must stay the execution.

warren hill

Warren Hill

In 2002, the US Supreme Court banned execution of prisoners with “mental retardation” as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Warren Hill, with an IQ of 70, was ruled by a judge to be “mentally retarded” by a preponderance of the evidence. But in Georgia, as in no other state, prisoners must prove their “mental retardation” beyond a reasonable doubt. Defining and measuring “mental retardation” is not an exact science – even IQ scores can vary based on the type of test given – so proving it beyond a reasonable doubt is virtually impossible.

By using this unreasonable “reasonable doubt” standard, Georgia has found a way to evade the spirit of the Supreme Court’s important 2002 decision, and to continue killing intellectually disabled prisoners.

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Death Penalty In 2012: Seven Significant Signs

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature's  vote to abolish the death penalty.

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature’s vote to abolish the death penalty.

By this time at the end of the year, states have generally stopped killing their prisoners. This break from executions is a good thing, and perhaps this year it will give us a chance to reflect on the larger question of our violent culture, and on how perhaps we can start focusing on preventing terrible crimes rather than simply responding with more violence.

The end of the year is also a time for looking back. Fortunately, this is also the time of year when the Death Penalty Information Center releases its year-end report, which provides a lot of good data. This year’s version reveals the geographically arbitrary (and increasingly isolated) nature of capital punishment in the U.S. In 2012, death sentences and executions maintained their historically low levels, and only nine states actually carried out an execution.  In fact, the majority of U.S. states have not carried out an execution in the last five years. Just four states were responsible for around three-fourths of the country’s executions, and four states issued about two thirds of U.S. death sentences.

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Arizona’s Immigration Law: 3 Sections Down, 1 to Go

Immigrant rights activists participate in the annual May Day rally. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck/Getty Images

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered its ruling on four sections of SB 1070, more than two years after Arizona’s discriminatory immigration bill was signed into law.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court struck down provisions criminalizing the acts of failing to carry immigration papers, seeking or performing work as an undocumented migrant, and provisions allowing police to arrest without warrant anyone suspected of committing a crime that could lead to deportation.

The fact that these provisions will not be able to take effect is a victory for immigrants’ rights activists and those fighting the draconian immigration laws that have been popping up in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, the good news is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that for Latinos and visible migrant communities in Arizona, the chances of being racially profiled have been both increased and de facto legitimized by this decision. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Homophobia Olympics in the Former Soviet Union

LGBT Rights in Russia

Russian police detain a gay rights activists during an attempt to hold an unauthorized rally in central Moscow. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

In the sporting world, countries from the former Soviet Union are used to winning medals. But in terms of gay rights, the only accolades these countries are winning are the wrong ones.

olympic medalsShort of outright criminalizing homosexuality as was the norm during Soviet times, Russia and most of its former satellite states are increasingly violating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. If a 2012 Eurasia Homophobia Olympics were held today, the “winning” countries trampling on the human rights of LGBTI people would be as follows:

Gold Medal: Armenia, for officially (and utterly shockingly) justifying and defending the firebombing of a gay-friendly bar by self-described young “fascists.”

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Race And Criminal Justice: A New Hope?

Marcus_Robinson

Marcus Robinson will not be executed but instead spend the rest of his life in prison after a judge ruled that his death sentence was tainted by racial discrimination.

Our justice system has a racial bias problem, both in the way it treats suspects, and the way it treats victims.

The cases of Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin underscore this.  If the races were reversed would Troy Davis’ execution have been pursued so relentlessly, would he even have received a death sentence, would police have been so quick to ignore other potential suspects?

And, had the races been reversed, wouldn’t the reaction to Trayvon Martin’s killing have been … different?

But knowing there is racial bias and doing something about it are two different things.  In North Carolina, something is being done.

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Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

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It's Time for Women's Rights in South Caucasus

Azerbaijan’s pardoning of its most celebrated journalist behind bars and Armenia’s release of all of its jailed oppositions is good news. But both ex-Soviet countries have a terrible record of women’s rights, and things seem to be getting worse.

Zaruhi Petrosian, a victim of domestic violence in Armenia

Armenia, for one, is the only country in the South Caucasus (which is made up of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) without legislation on domestic violence. An ongoing trial of a man who murdered his wife is still being dragged while the woman’s mother-in-law, reportedly also involved in the killing, is free.

In November 2008, Amnesty International issued a report on domestic abuse in Armenia stating that more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.

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Georgia Execution Drugs Seized by DEA

Yesterday, the DEA seized Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental, the anesthetic most states use as the first drug in a three drug cocktail to execute prisoners, explaining that there are “questions about how the drug was imported to the U.S.”

States have been importing sodium thiopental because the one US-based, FDA-approved manufacturer, Hospira, has ceased production over concerns about its use in executions.  Georgia, Arizona, Arkansas, California and Tennessee have all imported this drug from non-FDA approved sources in the U.K., and Nebraska recently acquired a large quantity from a non-FDA approved source in India.

Attorneys in Georgia in particular have objected that the drug came from a “fly-by-night supplier operating from the back of a driving school in England.” Raised in advance of the execution of Emmanuel Hammond in January, these concerns, though ignored by the courts, apparently were noticed by the DEA.

Outside the U.S., Swiss-based Novartis, the company responsible for a generic, non-Hospira version of sodium thiopental recently announced its intention to prevent its drug from being used in executions.  And Denmark-based Lundbeck, maker of pentobarbital, the substitute drug currently being used by Oklahoma and Ohio, has also strongly objected to the use of their product in the killing of prisoners.

The fundamental problem is this: carrying out executions with drugs meant for healing is an unresolvable and unsustainable breach of basic medical ethics (not to mention human rights). States like Georgia sneaking around and skirting the rules to import the drugs just makes it worse.