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The US Supreme Court ruled against the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities in 2002/AFP FILE


Georgia to execute mentally handicapped man

The US Supreme Court ruled against the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities in 2002/AFP FILE

WASHINGTON, Jul 23 – Barring a last minute intervention by the US Supreme Court, a mentally handicapped man will be executed Monday in Georgia, despite protests from around the world — and from the victim’s family.

Warren Hill, a 52-year-old African American, has spent the last 21 years on death row for killing a fellow inmate. He was originally put in prison for murdering his girlfriend, according to state authorities.

He is scheduled to be executed Monday, despite his reported IQ of 70, which puts him below the threshold for mental disability.

“The US Supreme Court should stop the state of Georgia from executing a man who evidence indicates has significant intellectual disabilities,” Human Rights Watch has said.

But the Georgia Board of Pardons has refused Hill clemency and last Thursday, a Georgia judge ruled that he was intellectually disabled to a lesser degree than the state requires to preclude the death penalty.

The US Supreme Court ruled against the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities in 2002, but left each state with the authority to determine what constitutes mental disability. Georgia maintains mental retardation must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In 2003, the Georgia Supreme Court determined Hill’s defense failed to prove mental retardation, and an appeals court upheld the ruling, “even if we believe it incorrect or unwise.”

The US Supreme Court declined to review Hill’s case, but his lawyers have requested that the matter be reconsidered.

“Requiring proof of intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt in death penalty cases makes Georgia an extreme and cruel outlier,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

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“The Supreme Court should not let Georgia flout the ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities through a legal technicality,” he added.

The family of one of Warren Hill’s victims have called for Georgia to commute his sentence from death to life in prison/AFP

In a recent editorial, The New York Times said Georgia is the “only state with a statute requiring a defendant to meet the unfairly heavy burden of proving retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. This stringent standard could be readily manipulated by experts, resulting in unconstitutional executions.”

If the execution does occur, Hill will also be the first person in Georgia to be put to death using a single drug, pentobarbital, instead of the standard three-drug cocktail.

A number of organizations have called for Georgia to commute Hill’s sentence to life in prison and high profile figures — including former US president Jimmy Carter, as well as the family of Hill’s victim — have also intervened.

France expressed its “concern about the situation,” asking if the execution could be avoided, while reiterating its call for a universal moratorium on the death penalty.

In a similar case, Yokamon Hearn, 34, was executed in Texas last Wednesday, despite proof he suffered from a mental disorder since childhood.

A UN expert had urged Texas and Georgia to suspend both executions.

“It is a violation of the (constitutional) protections on the death penalty to impose the supreme punishment on individuals suffering from psycho-social handicaps,” said Christof Heyns, of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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