Monday, July 15, 2013

Live blog: Death-row inmate Warren Hill granted stay of execution

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 3:11 PM

With less than four hours before his scheduled death, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan granted Warren Hill a stay of execution. The ruling delays Hill's execution until Thursday at the earliest, when a hearing on lethal injection drugs will take place. The outcome of that hearing will determine whether the inmate's stay gets lifted.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court or the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles intervene, the Georgia Department of Corrections will execute death-row inmate Warren Hill tonight.

It'll be the second time this year that Hill, who is mentally disabled, will face his impending death by lethal injection. Hill, who was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, ended up on death row for the 1990 murder of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike.

Five months ago, he received stays of execution from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Georgia Court of Appeals less than 30 minutes before he was to be killed. Once a point of contention, all seven experts who evaluated Hill - including three who originally stated he wasn't "mentally retarded" - now unanimously agree about Hill's IQ levels.

Nevertheless, Hill's attorneys have exhausted nearly all of their options. Brian Kammer, one of his attorneys, recently told CL that a U.S. Supreme Court intervention remained "one of the last" options left to save his life.

At least 11 protests are expected to take place across Georgia, including a press conference and rally in Atlanta that'll start at 4:45 p.m. at Woodruff Park. Expect plenty of others to chime in as the clock ticks. We'll be updating this post throughout the day with updates on Hill, possible action from the U.S. Supreme Court, statewide rallies, and more.

8:30 a.m.: Amnesty International UK has started a petition asking Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to support the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court. The message, which can be signed here, reads:

The Honorable Sam Olens - Attorney General of Georgia,

I am writing to urge you to support the petition of Warren Hill for US Supreme Court intervention in his case.

Mr. Hill is scheduled for execution on July 15, despite the fact that all 7 experts who have examined him now agree that he is 'intellectually disabled' and that his execution would be unconstitutional.

Despite this unanimous assessment, the 11th Circuit federal court earlier this year ruled that it was procedurally barred from hearing the case again, even though there is a significant possibility that Mr. Hill could now prove his "mental retardation" even to Georgia's unique "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

As you know, the US Supreme Court banned executions of those diagnosed with "mental retardation" in 2002. The failure of the courts, for procedural reasons, to hear Mr. Hill's claim means that the state of Georgia may be about to violate this ban. The unconstitutional execution of Warren Hill would be a grave injustice but it can be prevented by strong principled action on your part.

9:45 a.m.: Attorney Brian Kammer sent along a motion for injunction that was filed on Friday with the Fulton County Superior Court. In his brief, he argues that Hill "will suffer irreparable harm in that he will be executed in an unconstitutional manner." Read his full remarks in the embedded document below:

10:25 a.m.: The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen has posted an article that looks at the legal battles arising in recent weeks surrounding Hill's case. It's an interesting look at how he thinks Georgia waited for the Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which went into effect this month, before he re-scheduling his death.

"This issue is about whether the state judiciary of Georgia is going to cede the field of capital punishment to the other two branches of state government," Cohen writes. "Such a withdrawal would not only be unprecedented in modern American history. It would be manifestly contrary to core constitutional principles."

Read Cohen's full story here.

10:47 a.m. Brian Kammer tells CL that a hearing for Hill's case will take place at 1:30 p.m. today in front of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan.

11:56 a.m.: USA Today has an interesting editorial on why Hill's execution is still happening despite a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision (Atkins v. Virginia) saying that the execution of a mentally-retarded person an Eighth Amendment violation.

12:02 p.m.: All About Developmental Disabilities, a metro Atlanta non-profit group, is traveling down to Jackson, Georgia, to protest Hill's execution. They also have released a new study regarding the state's death penalty law:

New Death Penalty Survey Data:
· 41% of Georgians favor the Legislature changing the death penalty law.
· 57% of Georgians favor prohibiting the execution of someone with intellectual disabilities
· 74% of Georgians are unaware the state has the highest burden of proof to show intellectual disabilities.

They argue that Hill should receive another stay so that the courts can mull over the "preponderance of the evidence" about his mental disability.

12:35 p.m.: We're less than an hour away from the Fulton County Superior Court hearing. As for what's at stake, The Guardian summarizes it well here:

The Georgia department of corrections is understood to be seeking pentobarbital to kill Hill through a compounding pharmacy, though it is using the new secrecy law to keep details of the supplier obscured. Hill's lawyer complains that as a result the prisoner is left "with 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."

Kammer goes on to argue in the legal challenge that the uncertainty surrounding the drugs to be used to put him to death also constitutes another violation of the eighth amendment of the US constitution, rendering his pending execution this evening a singularly controversial event even by the standards of the US death penalty.

1:07 p.m. Tampa Bay resident Kurt Wadsworth Jr., who's currently walking more than 2,000 miles across Florida to end the death penalty, shared a photo with CL in which he's holding posters in support of Warren Hill.

21377_501533163249764_1316074968_n.jpg
  • Courtesy Kurt Wadsworth Jr.

1:24 p.m. Page Pate, who often serves as WABE's legal analyst, tweeted a reminder that the victims' family sides with Hill (a point that often gets buried in the Hill saga):

1:51 p.m. Martha Zoller, editor-in-chief of the conservative political website Z Politics, argues that Hill's execution should happen in order for justice to be served. She thinks, however, that this case exhibits the need for death penalty reforms in Georgia.

"There should be a 5 year limit from sentencing to execution," Zoller writes. "It should be the responsibility of the State to test any DNA evidence, especially if it's exculpatory. Upon conviction, there should be an automatic appeal for technicalities, because everyone knows in death penalty convictions the lawyers are incompetent - or that is always the claim. Then there should be an appeal on evidence. This should be completed in 5 years time. If you have to remind people of the crime, justice for the victims is not being done."

3:06 p.m.: Numerous rallies are set to take place across the state in the coming hours. Here's a full list courtesy of one of the organizers Evelyn Lynn, who works with the Georgia Council on Development Disabilities.

Jackson:
6:00 PM Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison

Atlanta:
5:00 PM March to the Capitol kicks off at Troy Davis Park (Woodruff Park).
6:00 PM Spokespeople will be available for comment on Capitol Steps, 206 Washington St.
6:30 PM Vigil at State Capitol Steps,

Americus:
12:00 PM US Post Office Prince St. & Forsyth St.

Athens:
6:30 PM UGA Arch on E. Broad St.

Augusta:
6:30 PM Augusta Commons, 836 Reynolds Street at Broad Street Entrance (Across from James Brown Statute)

Clarkesville:
6:30 PM Clarkesville Courthouse near the Gazebo, 226 Grant St.

Dawson:
6:30 PM Intersection of Hwy 520 and Hwy 82

Conyers:
6:30 PM Rockdale County Courthouse; Milstead Ave. side; 922 Court St.; Conyers, GA 30012

Marietta:
6:30 PM Cobb County Courthouse, On Marietta Square Cherokee St./Roswell St.,

Savannah:
5:30pm Chatham County Courthouse, 133 Montgomery Street, Savannah

3:23 p.m.: Fulton County Judge Tusan has granted Warren Hill a stay of execution, the Southern Center for Human Rights tweets:

3:37 p.m.: We've confirmed with attorney Brian Kammer that Hill's stay of execution is temporary and will be revisited during a hearing on lethal injection drugs, which will take place at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning. The state won't appeal that decision before that time.

Kammer says, pending the hearing's outcome, Hill's rescheduled execution could happen as early as Thursday evening.

3:47 p.m.: Atlanta's Warren Hill rally will still take place at Woodruff Park at 5 p.m. The vigil, for obvious reasons, has been canceled.

4:00 p.m.: Here's a full statement from Brian Kammer regarding the stay of execution:

We are relieved that the Superior Court of Fulton County has stayed the execution of Warren Hill, a man with mental retardation who has an undisputed I.Q. of 70. Today, the Court found that more time is needed to explore Mr. Hill's complaint, which raises serious concerns about the extreme secrecy surrounding the execution process in Georgia, and the new Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which took effect one day before Georgia issued a death warrant for Mr. Hill. At this time, there is far too much we do not know about how the state intends to proceed in this, the most extreme act a government can take against a citizen.

Ultimately, we are hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will hear Mr. Hill's pending Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, and will have the opportunity to consider the important new evidence in this case, that there is unanimous consensus among all the doctors who have examined Mr. Hill, including three who previously testified for the state, that he is a person with mental retardation, and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

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