Georgia authorities continue to pursue the execution of Warren Hill despite the fact that:
- The victim’s family opposes the execution
- Several jurors from the trial now object to the execution
- All 7 doctors who have examined him now agree that Hill is intellectually disabled
- The U.S. Supreme Court banned execution of the intellectually disabled in 2002
With an assist from the U.S. Supreme Court, which today rejected Warren Hill’s petition for relief, Georgia may get its way.
Earlier this year three state doctors, who testified in 2000 that Mr. Hill did NOT have “mental retardation” (the legal term for intellectual disability), submitted sworn affidavits revising their diagnoses and agreeing that, yes, he DOES have “mental retardation.” But federal courts ruled that they were procedurally barred from hearing this new information. Hill had petitioned to reverse that.
The failure of the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in this and other cases is emblematic of its broader failure to ensure fairness in the impossibly flawed U.S. death penalty.
The Supreme Court has missed an important opportunity to strengthen its ban on executions of the intellectually disabled, and has reinforced an impression that the Court is willing to let death penalty states undermine one of its most significant rulings. Other prisoners with strong claims of intellectual disability, such as Marvin Wilson in Texas who had an IQ of 61, have also gone to their execution without any sign of concern from the Supreme Court.
The failure of the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in this and other cases is emblematic of its broader failure to ensure fairness in the impossibly flawed U.S. death penalty. Procedural bars enacted by Congress and affirmed by the courts have made it so that even an execution that would clearly violate the Constitution somehow cannot be stopped.
As 11th Circuit federal judge Rosemary Barkett wrote in her stinging dissent in this case [p. 40]:
The idea that courts are not permitted to acknowledge that a mistake has been made which would bar an execution is quite incredible for a country that not only prides itself on having the quintessential system of justice but attempts to export it to the world as a model of fairness.
The U.S. Supreme Court has now failed to act, demonstrating definitively that capital punishment is a runaway system that must be abolished. It is clear that to prevent these kinds of miscarriages of justice, ending the death penalty is the only solution.