Supreme Court To Decide If Mentally Disabled Man’s Execution Will Go Forward

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Georgia death row inmate William Lee Hill Jr., set to be executed on Monday, has officially filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court. The appeal, filed yesterday, argues that Hill should not be executed because he is mentally retarded.

Last week the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole denied both Hill’s request to commute his sentence to life in prison and his request for a 90-day stay but his execution, originally scheduled for today, was delayed because of Georgia’s decision to change the chemicals it uses in executions. The delay gave Hill and his lawyers time to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

The case highlights a controversy stemming from a 2002 Supreme Court decision , Atkins v. Virginia. Although the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded individuals, it left it up to the individual states to determine how to assess mental retardation.

While many states use a standard called “preponderance of evidence,” Georgia is the only state to require a much stricter standard, “beyond a reasonable doubt” in making this assessment.

Hill and his lawyers argue that a 2002 determination by a judge that Hill has an IQ of 70 and is mentally retarded by a preponderance of the evidence standard makes his imminent execution unconstitutional, and critics think that the Supreme Court should take Hill’s case and clarify their ruling in Atkins. John Henry Blume, a law professor at Cornell said: “[i]t’s been frustrating to watch as the promise of Atkins has been eroded in many states through the implementation of both definitions and procedures which make it virtually impossible to prove that anyone has mental retardation.” Christof Heyns, a United Nations human rights expert, weighed in on Hill’s case earlier this week agreeing that his planned execution is unconstitutional and asserting that it would also violate international law.

Hill’s appeal is a last ditch effort to stay his execution. The U.S. Supreme Court has already declined to hear an appeal by Hill once this year.

Alex Brown