The state of Georgia is set to execute Warren Hill, a mentally disabled, African-American man, on Tuesday.
The state's last execution was that of Troy Davis, prompting Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to write that "the world community is again watching Georgia with great concern as it prepares to carry out another grotesque and unjust execution."
Hill was given a death sentence after killing a fellow inmate while already serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend.
Hill is reported to have an IQ of 70, and The Guardian reports that
All medical specialists who have examined Hill now agree that he is "mentally retarded" – the designation of intellectual disability still widely used in the US – and should be protected under the supreme court ban. In an important break in the case, three forensic psychiatrists who had previously testified that Hill did not meet the legal criteria for "mental retardation", and was thus eligible for execution, have in recent days announced that they now believe their opinion was wrong.
All three doctors say that their original evaluation – given 12 years ago at a crucial stage in the case – was rushed and ill-conceived.
Thomas Sachy, a neuropsychiatrist, has stated in an affidavit that he came to his opinion that Hill was fit to be executed in November 2000 after having seen him only for an hour. It was the medic's first experience of a capital case, he had no experience evaluating patients with learning difficulties and almost no experience testifying in a forensic setting.
So how is it that Georgia is allowed to give a death sentence to Hill? Agence France-Presse reports:
The US Supreme Court ruled against the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities in 2002, but left each state with the authority to determine what constitutes mental disability.
Georgia has the strictest standard of any US state when it comes to determining this, with courts requiring "proof of retardation beyond a reasonable doubt" -- a burden that some mental health professionals say is almost impossible to meet.
A Georgia court agreed with an appeal by Hill's lawyers that he should not be put to death, but it was overruled by a higher court in the state, which found that Hill could not prove his retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.
Eric Jacobson, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, writes that if the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene to stop the execution, "a man with an undisputed intellectual disability will be unconstitutionally put to death."
And Andrew Cohen writes in The Atlantic that Hill's case represents "nothing less than the state-sanctioned defiance of a recent Supreme Court mandate: Thou shalt not execute the mentally retarded."