Warren Lee Hill, convicted of murder in Lee County, was refused a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday. At issue in that case was whether executing Hill, who his lawyers say is mentally retarded, is barred by the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
ALBANY — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the case of death row inmate Warren Lee Hill, whose lawyers contend is mentally disabled and should not be executed.
Hill’s attorney Brian Kammer had filed a petition for original habeas corpus with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the judicial body to bypass the normal pathway through lower courts and take up the case directly.
Hill was condemned to death after a Lee County Superior Court jury convicted him of murder in the bludgeoning death of another prison inmate, Joseph Handspike, at what is now Lee State Prison. At the time of Handspike’s murder, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Sylvia Wright.
This basis of Hill’s argument hinged on the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that executing people with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Kammer said all three mental health experts who originally testified that Hill was not mentally retarded have since changed their minds, contending now he is retarded. In addition, Georgia’s unique “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement for legal retardation may be the toughest in the nation.
“I’m very very disappointed,” Kammer said, “that (the Supreme Court) won’t support the Constitution in this case. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort and only becomes a factor in extraordinary case. This is one of those.”
Hill’s most recent date with the executioner was July 15, but Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tuscan issued a stay to review the constitutionality of a new Georgia statute that makes information about the drug used in executions a “confidential state secret.” That secrecy is the basis of a separate case for Hill that is now before the Georgia Supreme Court.
In that case, Hill’s lawyers contend that the drug pentobarbital, used in executions by the Georgia Board of Corrections, is now manufactured by an undisclosed compounding pharmacy and the makeup of the drug is not provided to Hill or the public at large.
Kammer said he expects the Georgia Supreme Court to issue a decision on Hill’s execution sometime early next year, calling that case “most likely (Hill’s) last chance.”