Georgia Will Execute a Mentally Disabled Man

:: Update ::
Warren Lee Hill is dead. At 7:55 this evening, he was executed in Jackson, Georgia.

In a democracy, the responsibility for a government’s actions ultimately rest with its citizens. Tonight, a mentally disabled man was killed in our name.

Original post:

Tonight, our state will put Warren Lee Hill to death.

Peach Pundit has covered his case before. In 1986, he shot Myra Wright, his girlfriend, 11 times and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Four years later, he bludgeoned a fellow prisoner  (Joseph Handspike) to death with a nail-studded spike. The details of these murders aren’t in contention.

The nature of the man who committed them is. Based on the reports of seven doctors, Mr. Hill has an IQ of 70, placing him on the border of intellectual disability (formerly referred to as mental retardation.) Though four doctors have always maintained he was disabled, three others declared in 2000 that Mr. Hill was not disabled based on two interviews and six days of consideration. In 2013, those three doctors signed an affidavit affirming that Mr. Hill was intellectually disabled based on advances in behavioral psychology and new materials on his mental state. Yet state courts have ruled this reversal legally irrelevant because it is not based on new evaluations of Hill.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the execution of “mentally retarded persons” is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” In May of last year, a 5-4 ruling expanded this decision by striking down Florida’s “bright line” policy that found anyone with an IQ north of 70 intellectually capable. Libertarian-leaning Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number. Courts must recognize, as does the medical community, that the IQ test is imprecise….”

Since a 1967 public school test, Mr. Hill’s mental capabilities have been questioned; he ranked in the bottom 2% of the population. Since 1991 (longer than I’ve been alive), Mr. Hill has lived under a death sentence. His last day has come and passed three times now, most recently in 2013 due to a court ruling on the chemicals involved in executions. Numerous individuals and organizations of stature have come out against his execution, including former President Carter, the GA Bar Association, the state NAACP chapter, the ACLU, the Council of Europe, the Archbishop of Atlanta, and, most importantly, the victim’s family, who were never consulted about the case.

In any other state, Mr. Hill’s condition would prevent his death. Based on the “preponderance of evidence” test used in death-mad states like Texas and Oklahoma, the four doctors testifying on his behalf would be more than enough to reduce his punishment to life without parole. The recanting of their testimony by the three doctors that testified for the state would put the matter beyond question. Yet Georgia’s standard for mental disability is the near-impossible “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

That standard clearly contradicts the spirit of the Court’s 2014 Hall v. Florida ruling cited above. Government has no power greater than the power to order death; recognizing that, the Supreme Court has limited that power in regards to those who straddle the line between the competent and those who have “the mental capacity of a child.” Better safe than cruel.

This morning, the Georgia Parole Board refused to grant clemency to Mr. Hill. On January 20th, the Georgia Supreme Court denied further hearings. Hill’s lawyers have made their final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that they will grant a stay before his 7 P.M. execution. Given the court’s restrictive ruling in Hall v. Floridahis attorneys face a potential nightmare scenario: that his execution will be ruled illegal after his death.

Since at least the 1992 death of Ricky Ray Rector (who died so that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton could become president and famously saved the pecan pie from his last meal “for later”), mental deficiency and Southern executions have been tied in the national and international conscious. It shows up in Family Guy gags and lazy stand-up routines; it has become one of the region’s many clichés. Given our recent obsession with the state’s image and competitiveness, one would expect the state’s power structure to move against the execution if only to prevent the slew of news coverage. Indeed, Charlie has written that “Executing a man who is mentally disabled will not help Georgia maintain and preserve the option of a death penalty.  Quite conversely, it may speed its demise.”

Those who are not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions should not bear the ultimate punishment. Let us hope that the Supreme Court spares us this barbarism.



  1. Noway says:

    Don’t worry, the Supremes will save your guy. He was, however, cogent enough to murder not only once but twice. He deserves to be executed .

  2. Mastodon says:

    It appears you have not read the recent opinion by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which reviews the exhaustive due process this man, who beat his fellow prisoner to death with a nail-studded board, who had evidenced the ability to lead a regular life, including handling his finances, holding a job etc. and who never raised the incompetence issue until relatively lately. Or if you have read it, then it seems to me your issue is being against the death penalty under any circumstances.

  3. Will Durant says:

    Given the huge disincentive, how do you prove he was trying his best on the intelligence tests? How could he have performed as a military recruiter without enough intelligence to know right from wrong?

    • Chet Martin says:

      I can’t. I would imagine that at least some of the physicians involved have been trained to distinguish between truth and fiction, though.

      There’s a reason that actors who can successfully replicate mental disability are instantly Oscar-worthy

      • Noway says:

        If all goes according to plan, let’s all check back after 7pm and see how successfully he’s playing a dead guy!

    • benevolus says:

      That strikes me as kinda funny.
      I’ve got nothing against recruiters personally, but we are talking about a job where they are trying to convince people to voluntarily go kill other people. The distinction between right and wrong could get a little fuzzy.

  4. zedsmith says:

    It always struck me as odd that state-sanctioned killings of regular people was hunky dory— but somehow it becomes cruel and unusual as soon as the subject becomes sufficiently stupid.

    • Ed says:

      Its always struck me as odd that anyone wants a government to have the ability to kill its citizens but hey, I’m old fashioned like that.

      • Chet Martin says:

        As a libertarianish Republicanish, I don’t trust the government to deliver the mail. I’ve always been surprised that people who agree with me on that count would want the same government to have the power of life and death

        • Ed says:

          To say nothing of the fact that as a deterrent it doesn’t work, as a cost-savings mechanism is REALLY doesn’t work…

          • gcp says:

            For me the “deterrent” argument is an old outdated argument when used in terms of murder. Capital punishment is however quite effective in deterring Hill or any other murderer from murdering again.

            • Chet Martin says:

              As is more effective methods of incarceration. For example:

              “• Between 2001 and 2007, states with the death penalty had considerably higher prison murder rates on average (4.25/100,000, with four of 38 states reporting no prison homicides in that time period) than those states without the death penalty (.92/100,000, with 7 of 12 states reporting no prison homicides).”


                • Chet Martin says:

                  I worry about the sustainability of Ben Gay. That’s why I always use kale extract when my brow is particularly furrowed

              • gcp says:

                Of course you link to an anti-death penalty web site. There is no evidence that if Hill was in a state w/o death penalty he would not have murdered in prison.

                I stand by my original statement that if he is executed, he will never murder again.

            • Ed says:

              “Capital punishment is however quite effective in deterring Hill or any other murderer from murdering again.”

              This is kind of fallacious. Past performance is no indication of future behavior.

              • gcp says:

                “Past performance is no indication of future behavior.” All murder victims would be glad to hear that.

      • Noway says:

        A dizzying response, Ed. Something else for you to ponder. If this animal had been executed after his first murder, he couldn’t have committed ANOTHER one!

        • benevolus says:

          That’s more about how we incarcerate than anything else. But anyway, what do we know? You or I might have beaten that other inmate with a board too under the circumstances.

            • Ellynn says:

              There is a 70 year old Savannah man just released from the Maryland state pen last week after 3 judges over turned his double murder conviction from 1978 who could tell us how much some juries really know…

  5. John Konop says:

    The strongest argument against death penalty has been for me, if we make a mistake… far as mental capacity it seems like an argument to get around debating the death penalty. The argument of mental capacity could stretch to mental health, IQ, environment, religion……

    I do support the death penalty for heinous crimes….but I have been leaning away from it not only for mistakes, but I am not sure with the appeal process it is not costing more than just a sentence for life…..And people who call for eliminating the appeal process, only increases my fears of killing the wrong person. A real catch 22 in my mind….

  6. saltycracker says:

    He killed in 1986, he killed again in 1990, 29 years later we could be scheduling his execution on the same day many in the legal system on this case from the get go could be having their retirement party. That’s wrong.

    • John Konop says:

      I may be cold about this issue….but I have no issue about execution in this case….how do you do it without setting up a system that kills the innocent?

      • saltycracker says:

        What the heck kind of system takes decades for justice to be resolved ? If it can’t be settle in some reasonable time frame, run with life and move on.

      • gcp says:

        You execute only those you know for certain are guilty. Brian Nichols, for instance, should have been executed. He murdered four yet because of one or two dysfunctional jury members he will remain in prison (unless he escapes) for the rest of his life.

    • Will Durant says:

      While I agree that the death penalty could be a deterrent I have to agree that the length of time from sentencing to execution has effectively erased almost any value it has as a deterrent.

  7. Andrew C. Pope says:

    The irony of a bunch of supposed pro-lifers vocally supporting this man’s execution is rich.

      • benevolus says:

        Ah, so it should not be called “pro-life”, it should be “pro-innocence”.

        I think a LOT of people could get on that bandwagon!

      • Andrew C. Pope says:

        “Beast”? Regardless of his past crimes, he is still a human being created by God and formed in God’s image. Treating him as if he’s some kind of monster or animal belitle’s God’s creation. Even as a sinner, he is as much a child of God as any zygote, blastula, fetus, or infant.

        Of course I’m starting to realize that, for some folks, criminals, homosexuals, liberals, and Kenyan-born Marxists are not worthy of compassion, love, and forgiveness. Looks like the Pharasees Christ preached against are still going strong 2000 years later.

  8. Noway says:

    Drew, you’ll be happy to know I just went threw a box of tissues after reading your last post. I personally think that sensitive pablum might get you a shot on Oprah or a movie on Lifetime. I know, let’s release him like Barabus! Even better, commute his sentence so he can tale over for Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin in the next version of Escape From New York. Didn’t you love the way he split Ox Baker’s head with that club with the nail sticking out of it?

    • benevolus says:

      Do you ever feel like your are seeing things in black and white when the world seems to be in color?

      • Noway says:

        On this particular issue? Nope. Like I posted earlier, he should have been executed for the first murder and he would not have been able to do the second one.

  9. George Chidi says:

    We may never know if the state broke its own laws or those of the nation in the course of executing Warren Hill. The source of the drugs used to kill Hill? A secret, by statute. We do not know if the state committed a fraud or a tort to obtain the chemicals from suppliers adamantly opposed to their use. Thus, their purity and effectiveness — standards used to determine if we managed to avoid torturing Hill on his death bed before killing him — are unknown to us.

    We are not allowed to ask the person who prepared the lethal dose what was in it. This is because we are legally prohibited from knowing that person’s identity.

    For all the talk about the “effectiveness” of the death penalty and the fairness (or lack thereof) of the death penalty, I question a process in which we are willing to take a man’s life for breaking the law while engaged in practices that may very well break the law to do it. If we are so incapable of executing someone without committing a crime that we have to hide our methods, I suggest we lack the morality necessary for the deed.

    • TheEiger says:

      I oppose the death penalty not because I don’t like the idea of killing murderers. I’m fine with it. I oppose it because it’s too expensive and it’s too easy of a way out for the murder. They don’t fear death. I like the idea of letting them live out their lives on a chain gang in the South Georgia heat thinking about what they did to get there everyday. That’s what I would prefer. No HBO, or weight room. Just books and a pick ax to dig ditches.

  10. Trey A. says:

    My faith makes it abundantly and irrevocably clear that capital punishment is always immoral and wrong. Always.

    But this… This is an especially shameful sin.

    Thanks to Terry Bernard, James Mills (who calls himself a “pro-life hero” in his state bio and is an ordained minister), Gen. James Donald, Albert Murray and Braxton Cotton, we have blood on our hands tonight. (How is it that the state parole board is five men and no women?)

    • John Konop says:

      If that is your faith does that mean under the new law proposed by Sen/ lawyer Josh Mckoon ie religuos freedom act….that nobody can be executed if that is part of thier faith?

    • Noway says:

      Trey, isn’t this a prime example of the separation of church and state the libs are always screeching about? Your (or others’) faith didn’t get in the way of the state protecting the people from a murderer.

      • John Konop says:

        Not via lawyer/Sen Mckoon on his new bill…..? I guess? I would think especially for Catholics this would be protected by McKoon….Not that I agree…..

            • TheEiger says:

              I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying you are being annoying. You keep bringing this up on every possible thread. Sometime you can be like a leach. You latch on to something and then go crazy. Do I need to repost the I’m here for the argument sketch? That’s how you are attacking on this topic. Just being honest.

              • John Konop says:

                You may be right……I was just trying to point out how it does effect issues beyond the original intent….Obviously it was not well thought out… other issues came up….it demonstrated way more legal conflicts than I initially thought about….sorry if I pounded the point to hard. The unintended consequences has been an issue as you agree with other legislation as well ie War on Drugs, NCLB…….I think to many see issues in a tunnel, not how it can be like pushing a line of dominos…..and many times it was done with good intensions….but good intensions do not pay the bills….I guess I tend to be very bottom line….works well in business….not always good with feel good politics…which is why I am not a politician….I realize I am a tactician….not enough patients for political BS…..

    • benevolus says:

      If we eliminated the death penalty and started going extinct I guess we could consider changing our minds.

    • Boredatwork says:

      What an incredibly useful statement. I’m sure you can back it up with numerous examples of societies that have been driven to extinction because they imprisoned murderers for life instead of executing them.

      • saltycracker says:

        The remark “defend our society” was more directed to the thou shalt not kill, anti-defense crowd as my personal feelings about the death penalty as punishment are more in line with its not worth the time and expense.

        But B’vous might want to address his question to the family of the guy murdered in prison.

        • benevolus says:

          If I was that family I would want to know how a murderer in prison got his hands on a board with nails in it. And was he being evaluated, and did anyone think he was a violent threat, and if so, why was he mingling with other prisoners.

    • George Chidi says:

      There are, perhaps, six countries that executed more people than we did last year. China, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, and (probably) North Korea. That’s some list to keep company with, if we’re going to talk about being “driven to extinction as a society.”

      I might argue that the practice itself correlates highly with being driven to extinction as a (moral) society. Somehow, most of Europe, South America and the rest of the English-speaking world seems to be keeping itself from extinction as a society without killing its citizens.

      • saltycracker says:

        Bizarre benchmarks. I personally have no issues with lethal methods of defense and a death penalty as punishment for the incorrigible murderers in our society. See my remark above, your guy isn’t worth executing (time/cost),

        We can also argue that low intelligence is a legal maneuver. It has more to do with psychopathic,amoral, incorrigible or whatever term you want for cold bloodied murderers than intelligence. A dog or rat can be socialized to not bite. Some can’t then you put them down.

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