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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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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SCOTUS, It’s Time for Marriage Equality

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

By Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group

Today the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments on two pivotal cases involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The focus of today’s hearing was on California’s Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the California Constitution by defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. The state constitutional amendment has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals courts and supporters of marriage equality hope it will be struck down entirely.

Tomorrow the court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. There is a great deal in the news about both cases and what they could mean for LGBT rights. The decisions made by the Supreme Court will have real impacts on individuals, children, and families, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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What the Signing of the Violence Against Women Act Means to Me

sarah deer

Sarah Deer (Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council), with Ruth Jewell (Penobscot nation and President BOD of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Representative Tom Cole (Republican champion of VAWA and member of the Chickasaw nation) and Rita Smith, Executive Director of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

By Sarah Deer, Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council

I was 5 years old when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Oliphant v. Suquamish in 1978.  The decision stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian and has left Native communities vulnerable to violent crimes committed by non-Indians in our territories.

When I first began learning about this case in earnest in law school years later, I was horrified. Why would the court rule that tribal nations lacked inherent authority to protect themselves? Over the years, many Indian law experts told me that it was unlikely that Congress would overturn the decision. Unfortunately, for many politicians, prejudice and ignorance have been the primary tools used to assess the legitimacy of tribal courts.

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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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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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How Texas Can Execute a Man with an IQ of 61

Marvin Wilson

Marvin Wilson

According to his most recent test, Marvin Wilson has an IQ of 61 (most states bar executions for those with IQs at 70 or below). That puts him below the first percentile of human intelligence, and he’s in an even lower percentile for adaptive functioning.  Despite the US Supreme Court’s ten-year old ban on executing the “mentally retarded” (Atkins v. Virginia), Marvin Wilson faces execution in Texas on August 7.

In Georgia, the case of Warren Hill recently exposed that state’s uniquely strict requirement that “mental retardation” be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” before an execution can be declared unconstitutional.

Texas uses a more reasonable “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof.  But the Lone Star State has found another way to keep killing the intellectually disabled. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Warren Hill Gets A Stay Of Execution

warren hill

Warren Hill

Georgia will not be able to execute Warren Hill on Monday.  He has been granted a temporary stay so the state of Georgia can sort out whether the sudden switch to a one-drug lethal injection protocol last week violated state laws guaranteeing public input on important administrative procedures (like killing people).

This is good news, in that Hill will not immediately be put to death, but there is no question that Georgia fully intends to execute a man with an IQ of 70 whom state judges have declared to be “mentally retarded” by all legal standards except the “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar used only by Georgia.

That the stay was granted on the lethal injection question allows the state of Georgia to evade further scrutiny of the way it handles capital punishment for the mentally disabled.  For now, the Supreme Court, which banned executions of those with intellectual disabilities ten years ago, will not be reviewing Warren Hill’s case or the unique Georgia law upon which the state bases its right to kill him.

No Mercy In Georgia

warren hill

Clemency was denied for Warren Hill despite his diagnosis of mental retardation.

The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has disgraced itself, and the state it represents … again. The Georgia Board exists, like all executive clemency institutions, to inject a bit of mercy and humanity into the cold, clinical processes of our justice system.

But the Board could find no mercy for Warren Hill.

On Monday, the Georgia Board rejected Mr. Hill’s clemency petition, despite pleas from the victim’s family and several jurors that there should be no execution.  And without regard for the intellectual disabilities that should have rendered him unfit for execution 10 years ago.

The Supreme Court ruled the execution of persons with “mental retardation” unconstitutional in 2002.  Shortly thereafter, a Georgia judge found Mr. Hill to be “mentally retarded” by a “preponderance of the evidence”.  But Georgia, alone among the 33 death penalty states, requires proof of “mental retardation” to be “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the most difficult legal standard to reach. So the courts couldn’t stop an execution that would not go forward in any other state and, more likely than not, would be unconstitutional.

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Victory: No More Mandatory Life Sentences For Children In US

Christi Cheramie

Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.

It’s not a total ban on juvenile life without parole, but at least now courts considering the crimes of juvenile offenders will have options other than a mandated life without parole sentence. So it’s a welcome step forward.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that laws mandating life without parole for juvenile offenders, with no other options, are unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment”.  In other words, to be constitutional, a juvenile life without parole scheme needs to have other, lesser, alternatives, so that courts will have the flexibility to consider mitigating factors that are invariably part of a young offender’s background.

While this ruling still allows for the possibility that those under 18 years of age at the time of the crime could be sentenced to life without parole, it is a step in the right direction.

According the Justice Roberts’ dissent, there are over 2,000 juvenile offenders currently serving life without parole who were sentenced under a mandatory scheme (see our infographic). This represents about 80% of the child offenders serving life without parole.

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