Warren Hill Execution Stay Extended

Warren Hill

Warren Hill

A challenge to Georgia’s “Lethal Injection Secrecy Act has led the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta to extend Warren Hill’s stay of execution. An appeal from the state of Georgia won’t be filed in time and his execution warrant will expire.

The secrecy law, which went into effect July 1, allows the state to withhold from the courts information about the drugs they intend to use in executions. This, of course, makes it impossible for the courts to determine if said drugs will be effective enough to prevent excessive pain and suffering that would render the execution a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the constitution.

There is also a “separation of powers” question: can the executive and legislative branches of government set up a system that keeps the judicial branch in the dark about the most awesome and extreme power the state can wield? In other words, is it OK that the public and the courts are denied information they need to ensure that the law is upheld and that human rights and constitutional rights are protected?

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Warren Hill Gets A Stay Of Execution

Warren Hill – an African American man with an IQ of 70 who was convicted of murder in 1991 – was set to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight. He has been found intellectually disabled by all the doctors and experts who have examined him. The carrying out of his execution would directly contradict the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, in which the Court found the execution of the “mentally retarded” to be ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ Several jurors as well as the victims’ family have expressed their opposition to the use of the death penalty in this case and have asked that his sentence to be commuted to life without parole.

Hill was granted a stay today, not on those grounds, but on the grounds that the secrecy surrounding Georgia’s lethal injection drugs violates Hill’s constitutional rights. Georgia’s new “Lethal Injection Secrecy Act” shields from the courts and the tax-paying public how Georgia has managed to obtain its lethal injection drugs. This prevents Hill from know whether or not the drugs to be used will be effective or whether they will cause serious pain and suffering in violation of the Constitution.

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GA Determined To Execute An Intellectually Disabled Man

Late afternoon on July 3 when the least possible number of people would be paying attention, using a new law that makes the acquisition of execution drugs a state secret,  Georgia scheduled the execution of Warren Hill, who is now set – barring intervention from the US Supreme Court or the Georgia Attorney General - to be put to death on July 15.

Georgia authorities did this despite the fact that:

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Harmful Errors: Texas Approaches Its 500th Execution

A cemetery for prisoners in Huntsville, Texas. Grave markers with an "X" or the word "Executed" indicate the prisoner was put to death (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images).

A cemetery for prisoners in Huntsville, Texas. Grave markers with an “X” or the word “Executed” indicate the prisoner was put to death (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images).

On July 30, 1964, the state of Texas executed Joseph Johnson Jr. He was one of the 21 African-Americans put to death in the Lone Star State in the 1960s, out of 29 executions overall. But his was also to be the last execution in Texas for 18 years.

In the late 1960s, executions in the United States dwindled and in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all U.S. death penalty laws. New death penalty laws were permitted in 1976 and executions resumed the next year. However, it was not until late 1982, more than 18 years after Johnson’s execution, that Texas would restart its machinery of death.

Since then, Texas has been responsible for, by far, more executions than any other state. On June 26, Texas is scheduled to put Kimberly McCarthy to death – in the process carrying out its 500th execution since reinstatement.

The continued high use of the death penalty in Texas (though at a lower rate than in the so-called “zero tolerance” (1990s), flies in the face of the overall U.S. trend, which has seen death sentences, executions, and public support for capital punishment dropping steadily. Texas itself is not immune from that trend, as death sentences in the Lone Star State are now at historic lows.

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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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The Fatal Flaws of Texas Justice

texas death chamber death penalty

The death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

Good News: Californians are currently debating the various dysfunctions that plague their capital punishment system, and could in fact bring that failed experiment to a merciful end on November 6.

Bad News: The political leadership of the state of Texas continues to myopically ignore (or deliberately conceal) the massive flaws in their own heavily used death penalty. And today, Halloween, the Lone Star State is set to kill its 250th prisoner under Governor Rick Perry.

As Amnesty International’s new report points out, Governor Perry, in his first state of the state address in January 2001 (he’s been Governor since December 2000), touted Texas executions, somewhat perversely, for “affirm[ing] the high value we place on innocent life.” But he then did at least say that the state’s justice system “can be better.”

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Who Deserved To Die This Week?

witness viewing room death penalty

Execution viewing room for witnesses © Scott Langley

On Tuesday, Jared Loughner, who murdered 6 people and wounded a Member of Congress and a dozen others in an Arizona shooting spree, accepted a plea bargain that will result in multiple sentences of life without parole.

That same evening, Texas put to death Marvin Wilson, a man with a 61 IQ and the mind of a 7 year old.

On Wednesday, Arizona executed Daniel Cook, a man who endured horrific physical and sexual childhood abuse practically from the day he was born. The man who prosecuted Cook argued for clemency, but no one listened.

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