'Intellectually disabled' man set for execution

Warren Lee Hill has an IQ of about 70 and the "emotional capacity of a young boy, " says his attorney.

Story highlights

  • Warren Lee Hill was convicted of murdering a girlfriend and a fellow inmate
  • Hill has IQ of "approximately 70," his attorney says
  • In Georgia, inmates must prove intellectual disability "beyond a reasonable doubt"

(CNN)Twice-convicted murderer Warren Lee Hill is set to be executed in Georgia on Tuesday night despite pleas from human rights groups and legal representatives who say his intellectual disability should make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Hill has an IQ of approximately 70 and the "emotional capacity of a young boy," said his attorney, Brian Kammer.
Federal law stemming from a 2002 Virginia case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court says executing intellectually disabled individuals violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But the case also allows states to define intellectual disability. In Georgia, that means attorneys for death row inmates have to prove mental impairment "beyond a reasonable doubt."
    "This is the strictest standard in any jurisdiction in the nation," Kammer said.
    Hill's execution would come two weeks after the state executed Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who killed Laurens County Deputy Kyle Dinkheller in 1998. Kammer also was Brannan's counsel.
    Kammer, who has represented Hill for 20 years, said in any other state, Hill would be serving a life sentence. Hill was sentenced to death in 1990 for killing fellow prison inmate Joseph Handspike, beating him to death with a nail-studded board. At the time, Hill had been serving a life sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his girlfriend Myra Wright.
    "We acknowledge that Mr. Hill should be held accountable for his actions and behavior," Torin Togut, president of the Arc of Georgia, said in a letter written on Hill's behalf. "However, it is our contention that Mr. Hill, who has an intellectual disability, should not be subject to capital punishment."
    The Arc is a nonprofit organization that advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
    Hill also has the support of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia NAACP and former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter.
    The victim's family and former jurors have also expressed support for mercy in Hill's case, saying they weren't given the option of life without parole when sentencing him to death.
    Kammer said seven doctors agree that his client is intellectually disabled, including three doctors for the state who initially evaluated Hill and said he didn't meet Georgia's standard. Kammer said those doctors have since signed an affidavit admitting they felt rushed during Hill's examination and now believe he does meet the standard for "intellectually disabled."
    In previous clemency hearings, attorneys for the state have argued that Hill served in the Navy, held a job and managed his money before killing his girlfriend -- signs that he didn't necessarily meet the legal standard for intellectually disabled, even though he has a low IQ.
    But Kammer said examples of Hill achieving "self-sufficiency" don't make a strong case for his execution.
    Several of the letters supporting Hill's clemency cite last year's Supreme Court decision that struck down a Florida law that used "unscientific standards for determining intellectual disability" for death row inmates.
    Attorneys tried to use the Hall v. Florida decision as grounds to spare the life of Georgia inmate Robert Wayne Holsey, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a local sheriff's deputy. Holsey, who also had an IQ of 70, was executed in December.
    Hill's case was presented Monday before the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. A statement from the board said it "will make a decision prior to the scheduled execution," which is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday.