Valdosta Daily Times

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February 19, 2013

Judge won’t reconsider case of Ga. death row inmate

ATLANTA — A state court judge on Monday declined to reconsider the case of a Georgia death row inmate set for execution this week.

Judge Thomas Wilson on Monday declined to consider a request for habeas relief for Warren Lee Hill, who’s to be executed Tuesday. Hill’s lawyer Brian Kammer on Friday had asked the judge to reconsider the case in light of new evidence.

Kammer has long argued that Hill is mentally disabled and therefore should not be put to death because the execution of mentally disabled offenders is prohibited by state law and a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.  

The state has consistently argued that Hill’s defense has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is mentally disabled. Hill’s lawyers have said that burden of proof is virtually impossible to meet. But Georgia’s strictest-in-the-nation standard for proving mental disability has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts.  

Hill was sentenced to death in Lee County for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. At the time Hill was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend.  

In his filings Friday, Kammer included sworn statements from the three doctors who examined Hill in 2000 and testified before the court that he was not mentally disabled. The doctors write in their new statements that they were rushed in their evaluation at the time and that they have acquired additional experience and there have been scientific developments in the intervening 12 years. All three reviewed facts and documents in the case and write that they now believe that Hill is mentally disabled.

The state argues that the claims in Hill’s motion for habeas relief should be procedurally barred because Georgia law requires that any claims not made in the initial habeas petition should be barred from review, and this is Hill’s third such request.  

The state’s lawyers also argue that the “new evidence” — the doctors’ statements — is not credible. These doctors met with Hill and reviewed extensive documentation in the case in 2000, and they haven’t seen him since and didn’t have significant new information in front of them during their recent review, the state argues. Therefore, it is not credible that they are able to refute the testimony they were so adamant about in 2000, the state argues.

The judge agreed with the state, writing in his order dismissing Kammer’s request that the new petition for habeas relief is procedurally barred and that the “new evidence” presented does not establish a miscarriage of justice.

Kammer has also asked the state Board of Pardons and Paroles for a new hearing and has filed a motion to stay the execution with the U.S. Supreme Court. He and other defense lawyers for Hill and two other death row inmates are also seeking a court order that would prevent the state from using the drug pentobarbital to execute them without a doctor’s prescription.

 

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