After years of lawyers arguing that he was intellectually disabled, Warren Lee Hill was executed by lethal injection in Georgia on Tuesday night. Hill was first convicted of killing his girlfriend, and then convicted of killing a fellow inmate while serving that sentence. He had sat on death row since 1991, when a jury sentenced him to the death penalty, and his execution date had been pushed back several times over the past few years because Hill's lawyers filed challenges stating that intellectually disabled people cannot, under state law and because of a 2002 Supreme Court decision, be executed.
But, as the Associated Press reports, Georgia has the strictest standard in the nation for proving that disability. Hill's lawyers, who repeatedly tried to meet the burden of proof required, were outraged, along with others, over what they called a "moral stain" on the people and courts of Georgia. Hill had an IQ of 70, which meant he had the mental functioning and capacity of an 11-year-old, said Brian Kammer, one of his lawyers. While lower Georgia courts had agreed that Hill was intellectually disabled, the state attorneys in this case argued that previous evaluations showed him having an IQ of 90, and cited the fact that he served in the Navy as reason to reject his clemency petition.
Capital punishment in the United States has been under increased scrutiny recently after a botched lethal injection caused Clayton Lockett to suffer a heart attack and die 40 minutes after the procedure began. The history of lethal injections show there's been a long list of criticisms of the practice, mostly citing cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, it was determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia that executing an intellectually disabled person is cruel and unusual punishment. An article from the American Psychological Association states that the court believed that "offenders with intellectual disabilities had significant impairments in their abilities to process information, logically reason, control their impulses and learn from experience." This, therefore, meant the defendants were "both less morally culpable and more susceptible to wrongful conviction."
But because the states were left to implement this decision on their own, it has gone several different ways. While some states made clear guidelines, such as Florida's bright line rule of an IQ of 70 determining intellectual disability, Georgia requires defendants to prove their intellectual disability "beyond a reasonable doubt," giving too much room for different interpretations. Florida inmates with an IQ of 71 and higher are not immediately deemed to be not disabled, though. A recent decision allows those inmates a chance to show that the Constitution protects them from being executed.
Though the state of Georgia said it "clearly does not ignore the diagnostic practices and definitions used by the medical and psychiatric community," Hill's lawyers understandably disagreed, as they had opinions from several experts that stated Hill was intellectually disabled. Kammer said in a statement:
Today, the Court has unconscionably allowed a grotesque miscarriage of justice to occur in Georgia. Georgia has been allowed to execute an unquestionably intellectually disabled man, Warren Hill, in direct contravention of the Court's clear precedent prohibiting such cruelty.
A Gallup poll shows 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty, down from a high of 80 percent in the mid 1990s. Support has dropped on all sides of the political spectrum, with support among Democrats falling from 75 to 49 percent, support among Republicans from 85 to 76 percent, and support among Independents falling from 80 to 62 percent between 1994 and 2014.