Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

April 24, 2013

Appeals court lifts stay of execution for Ga. man

ATLANTA — A federal appeals court that stepped in at the last minute to halt the execution of a Georgia man in February has lifted its stay, clearing the way for a new execution date — though the state doesn’t currently have any lethal injection drugs.

In a 2-1 opinion published Monday, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Warren Lee Hill cannot submit his case to a federal court for reconsideration. The opinion says Hill’s claim of mental disability was presented in an earlier petition and can’t be presented again. The circuit judges also say Hill’s claim only challenges his eligibility for the death sentence, not his underlying guilt, making him ineligible for reconsideration.

Brian Kammer, a lawyer for Hill, said Tuesday he is pondering their next step.

“We are deeply disappointed that the 11th Circuit United States Court of Appeals found that procedural barriers prevent them from considering the compelling new evidence in Warren Hill’s case,” he said in a statement. “The new evidence shows that every mental health expert ever to examine him finds that Mr. Hill has mental retardation and he is thus ineligible for execution according to the constitution of the United States.”

The Georgia attorney general’s office declined to comment on the decision.

The 11th Circuit decision means a new execution date could be set at any time. But the state’s supply of execution drug pentobarbital expired last month, and the drug has become increasingly difficult to obtain since its manufacturer has barred its use for executions. The Department of Corrections will try to get more at the appropriate time, said spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan.

Hill was sentenced to die for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Hill used a board studded with nails and bludgeoned Handspike while he slept, authorities said. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who was shot 11 times.

Like many death penalty cases, Hill’s has had a long and complicated journey through the legal system, including two last-minute stays of execution.

The 11th Circuit panel granted a stay in February after Hill’s lawyers argued he was eligible for reconsideration in federal court because three doctors who had testified in 2000 that Hill was not mentally disabled provided statements in February saying they had changed their opinions and now believe he is.

Georgia passed a law in 1988 prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the execution of mentally disabled offenders was unconstitutional. But Georgia also has the strictest-in-the-nation standard for death-row inmates seeking to avoid execution, requiring them to prove their mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt. The state of Georgia has long argued that Hill’s lawyers have failed to do that.

In filings with the 11th Circuit, the state said the doctors’ new statements were not credible and also argued Hill was procedurally barred from asking a federal court to reconsider his case.

In the majority opinion, Circuit Judge Frank Hull writes that the court recognizes Hill has submitted new evidence to support his claims but says the core argument — that Hill is mentally disabled and therefore shouldn’t be executed — remain the same. The 11th Circuit and other courts have repeatedly held that new evidence and new legal arguments in support of a prior claim aren’t enough to overcome the statutory bar on repeat petitions.

“If all that was required to reassert years later a previously rejected claim was a change in testimony, every material witness would have the power to upset every notion of finality by simply changing his testimony,” Hull writes.

Hill’s claim also doesn’t meet exceptions to the requirements that would allow reconsideration by a federal court, Hull writes.

In the dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett, writes that Hill has offered “uncontroverted evidence” of his mental disability and said she doesn’t believe there is no choice but to allow the execution to go forward simply because his claim doesn’t meet narrow procedural standards.

“The idea that courts are not permitted to acknowledge that a mistake has been made which would bar an execution is quite incredible for a country that not only prides itself on having the quintessential system of justice but attempts to export it to the world as a model of fairness,” Barkett wrote, adding later that the law’s “requirements should not be construed to require the unconstitutional execution of a mentally retarded offender who, by presenting evidence that virtually guarantees that he can establish his mental retardation, is able to satisfy even the preposterous burden of proof Georgia demands.”


For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

Text Only
Top News
  • Bat Fungus1.jpg Bat-killing fungus spreads in Georgia

    Black Diamond Tunnel sits just outside the city of Clayton in the northeast corner of Georgia. Today, the man-made tunnel is the state’s largest known winter shelter for some of Georgia’s 16 bat species. It’s also the latest site in the state to fall victim to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killed more than 6 million bats in the eastern half of the U.S.

    April 17, 2014 3 Photos

  • Odd Claw Machine Todd.jpg Nebraska toddler gets stuck inside claw machine

    Authorities say a toddler has been reunited with his mother after employees found him playing inside a claw crane machine at a Nebraska bowling alley.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston Marathon_Stew.jpg Boston Marathon organizers confident of safe race

    The arrest of a man with a rice cooker in his backpack near the Boston Marathon finish line led police to step up patrols Wednesday, while organizers sought to assure the city and runners of a safe race next week.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Ukraine_Stew.jpg Combat vehicles in east Ukraine fly Russian flag

    A column of armored vehicles flying Russian flags drove into a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russian insurgents Wednesday, dampening the central government’s hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • S. Ga. river flood warning issued

    S. Ga. river flood warning issued

    April 17, 2014

  • Detroit still needs $350M from state lawmakers

    Pressure was building Wednesday for Michigan lawmakers to commit $350 million to Detroit pensions, a day after the city reached tentative agreements with pension funds and a retiree group to reduce payouts.

    April 17, 2014

  • China’s growth slows to 7.4 percent in 1Q

    China’s economic growth slowed further in the latest quarter but appeared strong enough to satisfy Chinese leaders who are trying to put the country on a more sustainable path without politically dangerous job losses.

    April 17, 2014

  • U.S. stocks close higher for third day in a row

    Investors drove stock prices to their highest level in a week Wednesday, encouraged by a crop of corporate earnings and reassuring U.S. and Chinese economic data.

    April 17, 2014

  • tyler.jpg 5th Annual Tyler Carter Memorial Duathlon

    The 5th Annual Tyler Carter Memorial Duathlon will be held on Saturday, May 3 at the Berrien County Parks & Recreation Department.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History for Thursday, April 17, 2014

    In 1993, a federal jury in Los Angeles convicted two former police officers of violating the civil rights of beaten motorist Rodney King; two other officers were acquitted.

    April 17, 2014

Top News

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results