Georgia stays execution of mentally disabled prisoner

Georgia stays execution of mentally disabled prisoner
A mentally ill prisoner who was scheduled for execution in Georgia on Monday has been granted a stay of execution by a judge. Major questions were raised over the execution, which appeared to be in stark contrast with the Eighth Amendment.

Warren Lee Hill, a 53-year-old man convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and beating a fellow inmate to death in 1990, has been facing execution for the past 12 months. He was scheduled to be killed by lethal injection last July and again in February, but was spared by last-minute court orders.

Hill has been classified as “mentally retarded” by all nine government and state doctors who examined him, and the Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia bars the execution of mentally ill inmates. According to one state expert, Hill has an IQ under 70, classifying him as 'challenged,' at best. 

Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan held a 90-minute hearing Monday, hearing challenges from Hill’s attorneys regarding the constitutionality of a new state law that hides from public view the manufacturer of the drug used in lethal injections and the physicians who prescribe it. 

Small local pharmacies provide the drugs for lethal injections in Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal constitution, because European drug companies refuse to let their drugs to be used in executions. 
A second meeting to continue the discussion was scheduled for Thursday. 

Hill was previously scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7pm local time (14:00 GMT) Monday.

Three of nine doctors classified him as competent 13 years ago, but in February redacted their statements and described him as mentally ill. One doctor called his earlier evaluation “extremely and unusually rushed” and another said his conclusions were “unreliable because of my lack of experience at the time,” Reuters reports.

The Supreme Court decision states that executing those with a cognitive impairment is a “cruel and unusual” punishment, which violates the Eighth Amendment. 

Defense Attorney Brian Kammer last week filed a Supreme Court motion for a stay of execution. Hill’s lawyer also filed a second legal challenge with the Georgia state courts concerning new drug secrecy laws.

Georgia recently passed the controversial Lethal Injection Secrecy Law, which allows the state’s Department of Corrections to secretly obtain the sedative pentobarbital, which is used in executions. As a result of the law, the state can bypass the Freedom of Information Act and consider information about the drug suppliers a “state secret."

In a motion filed with the state, Kammer argues that the uncertainty about the sedatives' origins means that his client has “no means for determining whether the drugs for his lethal injection are safe and will reliably perform their function, or if they are tainted, counterfeited, expired or compromised in some other way."

The motion was filed to challenge “the constitutionality of [the secrecy law] and clarify the rights of Mr. Hill to obtain information about the origins and manufacture of the drug with which he will be executed – and by extension – its safety an likely efficacy.”

To defend itself against the federal court, the state is arguing that all nine doctors who diagnosed Hill as mentally ill were flawed in their analyses and failed to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt under state standards - and that the three who redacted their classifications did so too late.  

Hill has not met his burden of proving retardation under an onerous state standard; that the doctors’ new diagnoses are flawed; and that, as a matter of law, they come too late anyway to spare Hill,” writes The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen.

Civil rights groups have spoken out against the Georgia court system, and the non-profit group All About Developmental Disabilities has called on the state to lower its standard for proving mental disability. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has published a statement declaring the inmate’s scheduled execution unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law,” he writes. 

Executing this indisputably intellectually disabled man would not only violate our Constitution, but it would be cruel and unjust beyond reason.”

Hill’s death would have marked the 19th execution in the United States this year.