Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Warren Hill's lawyer says U.S. Supreme Court push 'likely' following federal appeals court decision

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Lawyers representing death row inmate Warren Lee Hill will likely take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court denied an attempt to further postpone his execution.

In a 2-1 decision yesterday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a habeas petition from Hill, a mentally disabled inmate who was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of fellow prisoner Joseph Handspike.

The federal appeals court, along with the Georgia Court of Appeals, granted Hill two stays of execution in February, which effectively halted his execution less than 30 minutes before his scheduled death.

Judges Frank Hull and Stanley Marcus wrote that the petition only challenged whether the convicted killer could be given the death sentence based on his mental disability, not on the actual basis of his guilt. Judge Rosemary Barkett strongly disagreed with Hull and Marcus and wrote in her dissent:

The Supreme Court has said unequivocally that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to execute a mentally retarded person. Despite the Supreme Court's command "that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution 'places a substantive restriction on the State's power to take the life' of a mentally retarded offender," the state of Georgia will execute a mentally retarded man when it carries out the execution of Warren Lee Hill. There is no question that Georgia will be executing a mentally retarded man because all seven mental health experts who have ever evaluated Hill, both the State's and Hill's, now unanimously agree that he is mentally retarded.

The state of Georgia and the majority, however, take the position that a federal court cannot consider Hill's newly discovered and compelling evidence because Congress's gatekeeping rules under [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996] preclude us from allowing a mentally retarded person to vindicate his constitutional right to never be put to death. The perverse consequence of such an application of AEDPA is that a federal court must acquiesce to, even condone, a state's insistence on carrying out the unconstitutional execution of a mentally retarded person. When Hill has proffered uncontroverted evidence of his mental retardation, I cannot agree that we have no choice but to execute him anyway because his claim does "not fit neatly in to the narrow procedural confines delimited by AEDPA."

Brian Kammer, one of Hill's lawyers, tells CL that the legal team is still reviewing its next steps, but that it's "likely" Hill will pursue an original writ of habeas corpus, a legal move similar to the route that attorneys representing Troy Davis took in 2009. Kammer says the U.S. Supreme Court push is "one of the last things that's possible" and adds it's one of the few remaining chances to have Hill's case heard.

"We are deeply disappointed that the 11th Circuit United States Court of Appeals found that procedural barriers prevent them from considering the compelling new evidence in Warren Hill's case," Kammer responded in a statement this morning. "The new evidence shows that every mental health expert ever to examine him finds that Mr. Hill has mental retardation and is thus ineligible for execution according to the constitution of the United States."

After the initial stays of execution, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had asked the Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta to vacate its stay. At the time, Kammer said the decision "may only be temporary" and would hinge on whether the inmate could litigate a second federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

"We came before this court with important new evidence - that three doctors who previously testified on behalf of the state, upon further review of Mr. Hill's complete records, now conclude that he has mental retardation," said Kammer in a statement. "The diagnosis of mental retardation is now unanimous among all the doctors who have examined Mr. Hill."

You can read the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' full ruling after the jump:

11th Circuit ruling denying Warren Hill relief Petition by cbsradionews

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