Death Penalty

Georgia Supremes Grant Last-Minute Execution Stay, But Not Because of Inmate's IQ

A Georgia death-row inmate whose case attracted national attention because of his mental disability claim has gotten a last-minute execution reprieve on a different ground.

The Georgia Supreme Court granted the stay less than two hours before Warren Hill was scheduled for execution, report the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. The reason: The court wants to decide whether state law bars a switch from a three-drug execution cocktail to a single drug, pentobarbital.

Hill was sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. Hill’s lawyers say a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring execution of the mentally retarded protects their client, who has an IQ of about 70.

Georgia was the first state in the country to bar execution of the mentally retarded, but it is the only state requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a stringent burden of proof, the Journal-Constitution says. Hill has not been able to meet the standard. A New York Times editorial criticizes the standard as an “unfairly heavy burden.”

The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in the case last month. The Georgia Supreme Court declined to review the Georgia mental disability standard when it granted the stay to decide the execution drug question.

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