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Monday, October 7, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court won't consider Warren Hill case

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided against hearing Georgia death-row inmate Warren Hill's appeal.

This nation's highest court this morning left Hill's petition off the docket for its upcoming term, effectively ending a push for a challenge to the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

Hill, who has an IQ of 69, was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. He had already received a life sentence for murdering Myra Wright, his 18-year girlfriend. He's remained alive in recent months after a Fulton County judge granted him an indefinite stay of execution pending a separate appeal over a new Georgia law, which keeps secret the names of the state's lethal injection drug suppliers.

Many thought that a Supreme Court appeal in his favor would be Hill's best shot at staying alive. And his lawyers and anti-death penalty activists aren't pleased with the justices' decision to pass on the case. Hill attorney Brian Kammer tells the AJC:

It is the unanimous opinion of all doctors who have examined him that Mr. Hill is a person with mental retardation. However, Mr. Hill has been procedurally barred from proving his exemption from capital punishment, which is why he brought his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the hopes that the court would ensure that the evidence of his intellectual disability would be heard. It is tragic that our highest court has failed to enforce its own command that persons with mental retardation are categorically ineligible for the death penalty.

Kathryn Hamoudah, the board chair of Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty, adds in a statement:

It is outrageous that as a result of procedural barriers, Warren Hill has been unfairly prevented from having his intellectual disability considered by the courts. Georgia must change its extreme 'beyond a reasonable doubt' law to ensure that people with intellectual disability are protected from execution in our state.

Amnesty International's Brian Evans wrote in Hill's defense:

The failure of the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in this and other cases is emblematic of its broader failure to ensure fairness in the impossibly flawed U.S. death penalty. Procedural bars enacted by Congress and affirmed by the courts have made it so that even an execution that would clearly violate the Constitution somehow cannot be stopped.

In late August, Georgia Supreme Court spokeswoman Jane Hansen said that oral arguments could be heard sometime "in the next several months." Hill's indefinite stay of execution will remain in place until then.

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