Georgia has scheduled a new execution date of July 15 for Warren Hill, the man convicted of a 1990 murder who came within two hours of being put to death early this year before a federal appeals court called a halt.
The new execution date was set even though Georgia lacks the lethal injection drug and the U.S. Supreme Court has not said whether it will hear Hill’s argument that his mental retardation protects him from the death penalty.
Hill had been slated to die in February, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta stopped the execution so judges could consider whether evidence of his mental retardation was new and could be a basis for an appeal..
In April, the court, in a 2-1 decision, rejected Hill’s mental retardation claims, saying they had already been considered and rejected.
The July 15th execution is set for 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison at Jackson, 50 miles south of Atlanta — if it is not postponed again.
“This case presents the extraordinary circumstance where an individual who is ineligible for a capital sentence is about to be executed,” said Hill’s attorney Brian Kammer. “Mr. Hill has no recourse left but to beg the nation’s highest court to intervene, and we trust and hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his plea.”
Hill was already serving a life sentence for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend when, in 1990, he killed fellow inmate John Handspike at the Lee State Prison in South Georgia.
Hill’s capital punishment case has attracted international attention because three state experts who previously testified that Hill was faking his mental disabilities have come forward over the past year to say they were mistaken. The doctors — two psychiatrists and a psychologist — described their evaluations of Hill more than a decade ago as rush jobs. They said an improved understanding of mental disabilities led them to believe Hill is mildly mentally retarded.
In 1988, when Georgia became the first state to ban executions of the mentally retarded, it required capital inmates to prove their mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia is the only state in the country that sets such a high burden of proof.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared executions of the mentally retarded unconstitutional, ruling it violates the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. But the high court left it up to each state to decide how the determination of mental retardation should be made.
As for the availability of the requisite lethal injection drug, the Georgia Department of Corrections entire stock of pentobarbital expired in March. And it’s unknown how the state will secure a fresh supply because a law that took effect Monday shields the identities of lethal-injection-drug providers.
Capital punishment states have found it difficult — and sometimes impossible — to secure lethal injection drugs because of political pressure on the companies that make it. Some have said Georgia may have to turn to compounding pharmacies to secure doses of the power sedative, the only drug the state now uses.
THE STORY SO FAR
Previously: The federal appeals court stopped Warren Hill’s execution set for February so it could consider whether evidence of his mental retardation was new and could be a basis for an appeal.
The latest: On Friday a Lee County judge signed a warrant setting July 15 as Hill’s new execution date.
What’s next: His lawyers are expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the execution to give the justices time to decide if they want to hear his challenge of an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the mental retardation issue is not new.