Lawyers for condemned inmate Warren Hill on Thursday asked the nation’s highest court to halt his execution on grounds he is mentally retarded.
A month ago, the federal appeals court in Atlanta, in a 2-1 decision, rejected Hill’s claims, saying they had already been considered and rejected.
Hill’s filing Thursday does not appeal that decision. Instead, his lawyers filed a petition directly to the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket.
“We think this case represents an exceptional circumstance justifying the court’s extraordinary intervention to stop a miscarriage of justice,” Brian Kammer, one of Hill’s lawyers, said.
Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Sam Olens, said her office had no comment.
Hill sits on death row for the 1990 killing of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike, who was serving a life sentence in the same prison Hill was incarcerated. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend.
Hill’s 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 and said they had been 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 has led them to believe Hill is mildly mentally retarded.
In 1988, when Georgia became the first state to ban the 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 the execution of the mentally retarded unconstitutional nationwide, 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 should be made.
During Hill’s litigation, two state court judges found Hill to be mentally retarded, but only by a preponderance of the evidence — or more likely than not.
Hill’s lawyers contend that the new testimony by the state’s own three experts means that Hill has proved his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This court accordingly is Mr. Hill’s last and only hope to avoid an execution that is flat-out prohibited by the Eighth Amendment,” the petition filed Thursday said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken just one case filed directly to its docket in nearly half a century: the one involving Troy Anthony Davis, who sat on death row for killing an off-duty Savannah police officer. In August 2009, the court ordered Davis’ innocence claims to be heard by a federal judge, who convened a hearing and then denied Davis relief. Davis was executed in September 2011.
Earlier this week, Hill’s lawyers also filed a separate petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the attorneys asked the high court to review the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in February denying Hill’s request for a stay of execution based on his new mental retardation claims.