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.
That’s where the clemency Board should have stepped in. If the statements from jurors and the victim’s family weren’t enough – and they should have been – preventing Georgia from carrying out a possibly unconstitutional execution should have motivated them to mercy. Or at least motivated them to protect the integrity and reputation of Georgia’s criminal justice system.
But they were unmoved. How and why they voted the way they did will remain a secret, but the Supreme Court may step in at the last minute. If not, Warren Hill will be executed on July 23 (postponed from July 18th due to a switch in Georgia’s lethal injection protocol), against the wishes of the victim’s family, several of the jurors from his trial, and despite the fact that, “by a preponderance of the evidence” his execution is banned by the Constitution.
Update (7/19): A Georgia judge has ruled against staying Warren Hill’s execution but went out of his way to reiterate that he IS mentally retarded by any standard except Georgia’s. Hopefully the Supreme Court will intervene now.