Warren Lee Hill Jr. was granted a stay of execution just before his scheduled time at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. This is in response to 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:
1) Having “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning”
2) “resulting in or associated with impairments in adaptive behavior”
3) “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 voted to deny clemency in concurrence to previous court rulings. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as well as a state appellate court in Georgia will review the case before making a final decision.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, State Experts Change Opinions in Condemned Killer’s Case: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/state-experts-change-opinions-in-condemned-killers/nWPTB/
The New York Times, Final Plea for Mercy: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/opinion/final-plea-for-mercy.html?_r=0
Vanderbilt, The Expert Witness in Psychology and Psychiatry: http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/courses/hon182/Expert_witness_in_psychology_SCIENCE_1988.pdf
Daily Mail, Last Ditch Legal Battle to Save ‘Mentally Disabled’ Death Row Inmate Who is Set to be Executed on Tuesday: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2280079/Warren-Lee-Hill-Doctors-say-convicted-murderer-mentally-disabled-court-stay-execution.html
Valparaiso University Law Review, Reflections on Witness Credibility, Expert Testimony, and Recantation: http://scholar.valpo.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1527&context=vulr
The American Psychological Association, Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology: http://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/forensic-psychology.aspx
Psychological Assessments, Competency to Stand Trial: http://psycholegalassessments.com/areas-of-expertise/competency-to-stand-trial/
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/