In 1990, Warren Hill murdered his fellow inmate John Handspike at the Lee State Prison in South Georgia while serving a life sentence for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend. He was given the death penalty but his execution was halted when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ordered his mental condition to be given another evaluation as grounds for appeal.
The appeal failed, however. In April, the judges ruled 2-1 that Hill’s claims of mental disability had already been considered and to reconsider the same case puts the court in double jeopardy.
The defense argued that new information has shed light on Hill’s mental condition. The three psychologists who testified as expert witnesses alleging that Hill was faking his mental condition have come forward admitting they were mistaken.
Interestingly, though Georgia was the first state to ban executions on the mentally retarded in 1988, it also holds the highest burden of proof. An inmate must prove their disability beyond a measure of a doubt.
Then, in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that no state could execute a criminal with mental retardation. The ruling held that the execution of the mentally retarded violated the Eighth Amendment. It left the measure of mental retardation, however, up to the states.
Though Hill’s new execution date is set in July, Georgia’s correctional facilities ran out of the lethal injection pentobarbital back in March. It is unclear if the court will have to resort to other means of execution because the identity of the provider of pentobarbital is confidential.
The only recourse for Hill and his attorney is the intervention of the Supreme Court.