Ga. Inmate Granted Stay 30 Minutes Before Execution

Warren Lee Hill has been deemed mentally retarded
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2013 7:32 AM CST
Ga. Inmate Granted Stay 30 Minutes Before Execution
This undated prison photo released on Thursday, July 12, 2012 by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows convicted murderer Warren L. Hill.   (AP Photo/Georgia Department of Corrections)

It doesn't get much more down-to-the-wire than this: Warren Hill had already taken an Ativan to calm himself for his imminent death last night. But the convicted Georgia murderer was granted a stay of execution just 30 minutes before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Guardian reports. Hill, 53, also saw a scheduled execution halted last year, but this time around things are different: Now every medical expert who has evaluated him agrees he is mentally retarded, including three experts who initially refused to diagnose him as such in 2000. They recanted last week, admitting their work had been sloppy. That would seem to satisfy Georgia's near-impossible and unusual requirement that a prisoner's mental retardation be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Still, earlier in the day, the state parole board, the Supreme Court of Georgia, and the US Supreme Court all declined to stop the execution. It was the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals whose judges agreed to further investigate Hill's mental status. Writing for the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen hopes this case reaches the high court. That's because Hill "presents the justices with an opportunity to strengthen—to save, really—the letter and the spirit" of their 2002 ruling that established that mentally retarded prisoners should not be executed, he writes. "In that case, they tried to be all things to all people. It was a mistake. Even as they announced a national standard, the justices announced that states could weasel out of the new rule by identifying for themselves who is and who is not mentally retarded." (Read more Warren Hill stories.)

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