A leading advocate for the intellectually disabled and a member of Warren Hill's defense team says he may have to die in order for Georgia to stop executing the mentally handicapped. Even though the experts are on his side, the odds remain stacked against Warren Hill.
In 1988, Hill was sentenced to life in prison for killing his girlfriend, Myra Wright. She had been shot 11 times. In 1990, he was convicted of killing a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, by beating him with a plank studded with nails as Handspike slept and other inmates pleaded with Hill to stop. It was for the Handspike murder that Hill was sentenced to die.
But Hill has an IQ of just 70. He was tested by three psychiatrists who testified in December, 2000, that he was competent to be executed - that he was not intellectually impaired, but was instead a borderline case. Now, all three doctors have submitted sworn statements that they now believe Hill is indeed intellectually disabled and is not competent to undergo execution by lethal injection.
In spite of that, there is not much optimism among Hill's advocates that the psychiatrists' change of heart will make a difference. Hill is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.
"We're not expecting something to happen in time to help Mr. Hill," said Kathy Keeley, interim director of All About Developmental Disabilities, a group that has been working with Hill's legal team over the past couple of years, hoping to get him off death row.
"I think he will be a symbol of why the law needs to change," she said.
Georgia is the only state in the country that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an inmate is mentally retarded before he can get out of the death penalty. Keeley and AADD are lobbying members of the Georgia Legislature to amend that law.
"Change the law in Georgia," she urged them, "from being 'beyond a reasonable doubt' to say 'based on a preponderance of the evidence.'"
But Keeley said state lawmakers are not willing to listen to that message.
"I wonder sometimes if we don't make decisions that some people are throw-away people," she speculated.
She said legislators do not know and are not willing to find out about the intellectually disabled, a problem she blamed on fear and a simple lack of experience.
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