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Advocacy group wants execution halted

Warren Lee Hill

Warren Lee Hill

ATLANTA -- Warren Lee Hill, twice convicted for murder, is set to die by lethal injection on Monday.

According to Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, the Superior Court of Lee County filed an order July 3 setting a seven-day window in which Hill's execution may take place. Olens said the July 15 date was set my the commissioner of the Department of Corrections

Hill was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his Lee Correctional Institution cellmate, Joseph Handspike, in 1990. Authorities said was then serving a life sentence for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright, in 1986.

At issue is a Georgia law prohibiting execution of the mentally retarded. In 2000, three experts concluded that Hill, with an IQ of 70, was not intellectually disabled. Now all three have reviewed the evidence and changed their minds, believing Hill fits the statutory definition of retarded and eligible to have his sentence changed to life imprisonment.

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Eric Jacobson

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, an advocacy group for the intellectually disabled, also wants to spare Hill, saying Hill's execution will set a "dangerous precedent" for the nation. At the heart of the matter, according to Eric E. Jacobson, executive director of the GCDD, is Georgia's requirement of "reasonable doubt" for demonstrating legal retardation -- the toughest in the nation. Jacobson and the GCDD recommend the more flexible proof method of "preponderance of evidence."

"In the years since Hill was found not intellectually disabled, we've found that those who are actually "retarded" -- by the legal definition -- are able to do many more things than realized back then," Jacobson said. "All the doctors now say that if they had today's information their opinions would have been different."

While holding fast in his belief that the intellectually disabled are capable of doing more, he doesn't necessary feel they fully understand the concept of right and wrong, he said.

"(The intellectually disabled) may not understand those things at the same level you and I might understand them," Jacobson said.

Jacobson believes that under a Georgia law requiring only a preponderance of the evidence -- that is, evidence more heavily weighted on one side of the other -- Hill would not be facing execution, he said.

"We've got to get this law changed," Jacobson said, "so that now and in the future we don't have to go back and argue whether this is reasonable or not."

For Hill, something has to happen quickly. This week, in a 2-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Hill's request to confirm his disability in court with new evidence.

"We're hoping the United States Supreme Court will step in before it's too late," Jacobson said.