After 7:00 PM on Tuesday, convicted killer and death row inmate Warren Hill received a stay of his execution. Hill had been sedated and was within less than one hour from being executed. Hill is a mentally retarded man who has a IQ of 70. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded. Three experts including psychiatrist and psychologists who examined Hill have stated he is mildly mentally retarded. The victim’s family is opposed to executing Hill. All of this begs the question of why is Hill being considered for execution.
Hill was serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend when he got into a fight with a fellow inmate and killed him. It is for the killing of the inmate that Hill received a death sentence. Hill was set to be executed at the same prison that Troy Davis was executed in 2011. Compared to the international outcry against the execution of Troy Davis, there has not been the same outcry in support of Hill. Former president Jimmy Carter repeated his appeal for a postponement, saying that “Georgia should not violate its own prohibition against executing individuals with seriously diminished capacity.”
In halting the execution, two courts intervened. The 11th circuit federal court said it needed more information on the mental retardation or mental illness of Hill. The Georgia appeals court wanted to look at the method of execution as the basis for its stay.
Although the Supreme Court has ruled against executing mentally ill defendants, Georgia has the highest standard in the nation in determining mental illness. Georgia requires a defendant to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. Three doctors who testified at a hearing in 2000 met the lower standard of preponderance of the evidence in regards to Hill’s mental retardation. Although , Hill’s IQ is 70, no doctor has been able to meet Georgia’s standard of proof. Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, issued a statement after the stay: “All the doctors who have examined Mr. Hill are unanimous in their diagnosis of mental retardation, so there is no question that his execution would have been in violation of the US Supreme court’s 2002 ruling in Atkins v Virginia.”
The Supreme Court has moved towards limiting the death penalty forbidding the death penalty for juveniles and mentally retarded and banning for crimes that did not involve killings. New Jersey became the first state in over 40 years to abolish its death penalty in 2007. But recent hard fought efforts to end in other states have failed. Maryland has the death penalty on its legislative agenda. Previous efforts failed to abolish it. The momentum is growing and now is the time to keep it going.
The death penalty does not serve the victim’s families or our society. Families of the victims wait often decades for their perceived “justice”. The death penalty has not been a deterrent to crime, is expensive, racially biased and unfair. Taxpayers spend millions on a failed system. One Maryland commission found that pursuing a death penalty case is three times more expensive to taxpayers than pursuing a non-capital punishment case. In death sentences, almost half of those receiving the death penalty are black. The prison population is over 40% black men while black men make up only 6% of the population.
Life without parole should replace the death penalty as the most severe punishment in America. And Warren Hill, a man with mental retardation, should not be put to death.