Georgia Grants Stay of Execution to Condemned Killer Warren Lee Hill, Jr.

Georgia’s move to execute Warren Lee Hill, Jr., this month was controversial in two important respects.

Hill has an I.Q. of just 70, raising questions about whether his execution could be in violation of the U.S Constitution.

And Hill’s execution was scheduled to be the first in Georgia to use a controversial single drug lethal injection since the state changed its execution procedure from a three-drug injection to the sedative pentobarbital.

It was the switch to the one drug formula, rather than Hill’s IQ, that led him to be granted a stay of execution. His execution had been scheduled for July 23, 2012.

The Georgia Supreme Court said it would it would consider the challenge mounted by Hills’ lawyers because the change required public hearings and a 30-day public comment period.

Hill was convicted of beating another inmate to death in 1990. He was in jail serving a life sentence for the shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend.

His lawyers have consistently argued Hill is mentally disabled, pointing our federal law prohibits states from executing mentally disabled people. The state of Georgia maintains Hill’s defense team hasn’t proved he has a mental disability.

Hill’s stay of execution is likely to be just that. By a 6-1 vote, the Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal challenging the state’s standard on whether an inmate is mentally disabled and ineligible for execution.

“Justice Robert Benham, the lone dissenter, said he would not allow the execution because Hill has been found to have a mental disability,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Those campaigning for Hill to spend the rest of his life behind bars, rather than being executed, include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Ironically In 1988, Georgia became the first state in the country to ban the execution of “mentally retarded,” inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited it nationwide about 10 years later.

David A. Love, executive director of Witness to Innocence, an organization that campaigns against the ultimate sanction, wrote of Hill’s impending execution in the Huffington Post. “The execution would violate the U.S. Constitution if carried out, but apparently that standard is not good enough for the Peach State,” he wrote.

Love also took issue with the drug now adopted for lethal injections in Georgia saying pentobarbital – a sedative used to put down dogs and cats – has been banned for export by the European Union.

“On July 18, Texas used pentobarbital to execute Yokamon Hearn,” he wrote. “According to his defense, Hearn was a mentally impaired man who suffered mental impairments due to his mother’s prenatal drinking and abuse from his parents.”

The Hill case is not the first time in recent years that Georgia has faced an outcry over the use of the death penalty. In 2011 Troy Davis was executed despite reasonable doubt arising over his original conviction as witnesses withdrew their statements.

The cases of Hill and Davis expose some big problems with the ultimate punishment.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.