The Death Sentence of Warren Lee Hill Jr.

Warren Lee Hill Jr. is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. This is despite the fact that all the medical specialists who determined Hill to be mentally competent during his trial have recanted their statements and now believe he is unfit to receive the death penalty. One such forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Sachy, said in an affidavit last week, “having reviewed my earlier evaluation results and the far more extensive materials from the record of this case, I believe that my judgment that Mr. Hill did not meet the criteria for mild mental retardation was in error.”

In 1990, while serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, Hill murdered a fellow inmate. Hill removed a nail studded 2-by-6 board that served as a sink leg and proceeded to beat to death Joseph Handspike as Handspike slept. Handspike was serving a life sentence for a Fulton County murder. In 1991, Hill was sentenced to death by lethal injection as a result.

In 1996, Hill appealed the death penalty ruling on the grounds that he is mentally retarded. He did not bring up this defense in the original 1991 case. In 2003, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that he did not meet the definition of mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt, citing the Georgia Law definitions of mental retardation:

  • Having “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning”
  • “resulting in or associated with impairments in adaptive behavior”
  • “which manifested during the developmental period” (before age 18)

In 2002, a state habeas court ruled that it would find Hill to be mentally retarded under the preponderance of evidence standard. However, Hill did not meet the beyond all reasonable doubt standard, which is the standard applied under Georgia law O.C.G.A. § 17–7–131 instructing proceedings upon plea of insanity or mental incompetency at time of crime.

In determining that Hill was not mentally retarded beyond a reasonable doubt, the court cited his Navy service, in which he was promoted to the rank of petty officer, previous I.Q. tests which placed his I.Q. at 77 (below 70 is generally considered mentally retarded), and his ability to function independently. The court found that he did not prove (2) beyond a reasonable doubt.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles was the last body which could overturn Hill’s sentence. They voted to deny clemency in concurrence to previous court rulings, and as a result, Hill is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday.

Additional Resources

Find Law Warren Lee Hill Jr. v. Carl Humphrey: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-11th-circuit/1586288.html

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Parole Board Denies Clemency: http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/parole-board-denies-clemency-1478693.html

Justia U.S. Law 2010 Georgia Code Proceedings upon plea of insanity or mental incompetency at time of crime: http://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-17/chapter-7/article-6/part-2/17-7-131/

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