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Warren Hill Denied Clemency

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The Eleventh Circuit summarized the facts of the Warren Hill case:

In 1990, while Hill was serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, he murdered another person in prison. Using a nail-studded board, Hill bludgeoned a fellow inmate to death in his bed. As his victim slept, "Hill removed a two-by-six board that served as a sink leg in the prison bathroom and forcefully beat the victim numerous times with the board about the head and chest as onlooking prisoners pleaded with him to stop." Hill III, 587 S.E.2d at 618. Hill "mocked the victim as he beat him." Id. Even locked up in jail for one murder, Hill continued to kill.

Hill's advocates now claim he is mentally retarded.  But a funny thing happened on the way to his trial 21 years ago.  Again from the USCA11 opinion:

Although Georgia already prohibited executing mentally retarded defendants at the time of Hill's trial, direct appeal, and initial state habeas petition, Hill did not claim he was mentally retarded until five years after his 1991 trial. In 1996, Hill amended his state habeas petition to allege mental retardation for the first time, and he later claimed that Georgia's reasonable doubt standard of proof in O.C.G.A. ยง17-7-131 violated the Eighth Amendment.

Mental retardation is, of course, a matter of degree rather than a clean yes/no question.  The yes/no line drawn by Atkins is artificial, subjective, and fuzzy, so it is possible to disagree in any case close to the line.  The Georgia statute hailed as a great advance by the Politically Correct types when it was enacted is now being assailed by them because it placed the burden of proof to qualify for this categorical exclusion on the defendant, beyond a reasonable doubt.  Even without the categorical exclusion, of course, the defendant can always argue any degree of impairment as a circumstance in mitigation.

Today, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a short press release saying they denied clemency.  As usual, they did not state why.  That is a regrettable practice.  It would go a long way toward improving public confidence in the system if they said something like, "On our independent review of the evidence, we do not believe Hill is retarded by any standard."

Oh, BTW, the correct term is "retarded," not "disabled."  The term "disabled" embraces a wide variety of mental conditions, and we are only talking about one here.  You could say "developmentally disabled," but the word "disabled" alone doesn't do the job.

3 Comments

This is decencyevolves:

So apparently it's not worth mentioning that the Georgia post conviction court that actually adjudicated his claim found that it was more likely than not that Hill actually was mentally retarded and that the Eleventh Circuit splintered over the quite troubling notion that the state may execute individuals who are more probably than not mentally retarded consistent with Atkins. it doesn't surprise me that people who believe IRS just fine to execute the mentally retarded would endorse the result in Hill, but it skews the facts greatly to pretend that case doesnt permit the execution of a man who, according to Georgia's own courts, is probably mentally retarded.

No, I do not consider it mandatory to rehash, in every post, aspects of a case that have been exhaustively reported and discussed in the news coverage and commentary.

Decencyevolves: of course, had the parole board made the "findings" you suggested, it would have been a remarkably dishonest and cynical conclusion, in light of the state habeas court's findings that Hill: (1) had established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, and (2) that he had established by a preponderance that he met all three MR criteria including (a) significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, (2) significant deficits in adaptive functioning, and (3) that these conditions manifested before age 18. If the state was bound a determined to execute a man it's own courts had determined was probably mentally retarded, I'm just as glad that a politically appointed board didn't take it on itself to obfuscate that fact.

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