Georgia Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate With 70 IQ

January 27, 2015 Updated: January 25, 2016

Warren Lee Hill is set to be executed at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency. If three people had voted to spare him, his execution would have been halted. He has an IQ of 70. He killed two people, one of whom was his cellmate in prison, a sexual predator whom he feared, according to court records.

The Parole Board announced its decision by stating it, “thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case. In addition to hearing testimony during the meeting on Monday, the Board, prior to the meeting, had thoroughly reviewed the parole case file on the inmate which includes the circumstances of the death penalty case, the inmate’s criminal history, and a comprehensive history of the inmate’s life.”

Hill was sentenced to serve life in prison for the 1986 killing of his 18-year-old girlfriend, who he shot 11 times. While serving that sentence, he beat a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, to death using a nail-studded board. A jury in 1991 convicted Hill of murder and sentenced him to death.

Groups that advocate for disabled people, civil liberties groups, and people opposed to the death penalty, all support life in prison instead of death for Hill.

“The clemency board missed an opportunity to right a grave wrong. It is now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that an unconstitutional execution of a man with lifelong intellectual disability is prevented,” said Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, in a statement Tuesday morning.

Like an 11-Year-Old

Kammer described Hill’s limitations: “According to every doctor who has ever examined him, Mr. Hill has intellectual disability. Mr. Hill’s disability means that he has the emotional and cognitive functioning of an 11-year-old boy. That is why the Supreme Court has outlawed the execution of the intellectually disabled.”

The Supreme Court forbids people with intellectual disabilities from being executed. In Georgia, because of an unusual state law, Hill has not meet the standard of proof that would have allowed him to serve life in prison instead. Georgia requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. All other states require proof based on the preponderance of the evidence.

Kammer hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will halt the execution, though it never stepped in before during Hill’s previous three scheduled execution dates.

His execution would undermine the State of Georgia’s historic leadership in promoting the rights of the developmentally challenged.
— Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, former president and first lady

The High Court did intervene in a case in Florida, he wrote: “Last year, in Hall v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court examined the unscientific methods used by which the Florida courts determine whether defendants have intellectual disability so as to be ineligible for capital punishment. The Court struck Florida’s statute down because it denied defendants a fair opportunity to prove whether they have intellectual disability.”

Hill’s lawyers argued that Georgia’s standard is unconstitutional because mental diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome. But the standard has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts.

Three Close Calls

Hill was previously set to die in July 2012, February 2013, and July 2013, but courts stepped in at the last minute with temporary stays so they would have time to consider challenges filed by Hill’s lawyers. The July 2012 and July 2013 challenges each effectively halted executions in Georgia while they were pending, for about six months and 10 months, respectively.

Days before he was to be executed in February 2013, Hill’s lawyers submitted new statements from the three doctors who had examined Hill in 2000 and testified at his trial that he was not intellectually disabled. In their new statements, the doctors wrote that they had been rushed at the time of Hill’s trial and new scientific developments had surfaced since then. All three reviewed facts and documents in the case and wrote that they believed Hill is intellectually disabled.

Included with the clemency application Hill’s lawyers submitted to the parole board were letters from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife and groups that advocate for those with disabilities. In their letter dated Jan. 21, the Carters cited the fact that Georgia was the first state, in 1988, to outlaw the execution of the mentally disabled.

“In light of the undisputed evidence that Mr. Hill is more likely than not ‘mentally retarded,’ his execution would undermine the State of Georgia’s historic leadership in promoting the rights of the developmentally challenged,” Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.