AP reports, "Doctors say Ga. death row inmate mentally disabled," by Kate Brumback. It's via the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lawyers for a Georgia man set to be executed next week released sworn statements Thursday from three doctors who originally testified for the state but who now say they've changed their opinions and believe he is mentally disabled.
All three doctors write in affidavits that they changed their diagnoses after reviewing evidence, testimony and documents in the case of Warren Lee Hill. Lawyers for Hill, who is set to be executed Tuesday, have long argued he shouldn't be executed because he is mentally disabled. State law and a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibit states from executing people who are mentally disabled.
"Having reviewed my earlier evaluation results and the far more extensive materials from the record of this case, I believe that my judgment that Mr. Hill did not meet the criteria for mild mental retardation was in error," wrote Dr. Thomas Sachy wrote in an affidavit.
Hill's defense plans to submit the doctors' statements to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles when it requests a new clemency hearing, as well as to a state court that has previously declined to overturn his death sentence, said lawyer Brian Kammer.
The state has consistently argued that Hill's defense has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is mentally disabled. Hill's lawyers have said that burden of proof is virtually impossible to meet. Georgia's strictest-in-the-nation standard for proving mental disability has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts.
"State experts change opinions in condemned killer’s case," is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution report by Bill Rankin.
Days before condemned killer Warren Lee Hill’s is scheduled to die, the same state experts who testified Hill was eligible for execution now say they were wrong, according to affidavits released Thursday.
Hill is to die by lethal injection on Tuesday at 7 p.m. His lawyers have already asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution. On Thursday, they said they will soon ask a state court judge to consider the doctors’ new statements and will use them when asking the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to give Hill a new clemency hearing.
During a key hearing 13 years ago, state attorneys called on two psychiatrists and a psychologist to refute Hill’s claims that he is mentally disabled and thus ineligible for execution. All three doctors now say they were mistaken when they testified Hill was not mentally disabled.
“Having reviewed my earlier evaluation results and the far more extensive materials from the record of this case, I believe that my judgment that Mr. Hill did not meet the criteria for mild mental retardation was in error,” said one of the experts, Thomas Sachy, a forensic psychiatrist.
In their affidavits, the doctors described their evaluations of Hill in late 2000 as rush jobs. They also said they did not have all the information they needed to make a proper diagnosis.
The scientific understanding of mental retardation has grown over the past dozen years, the doctors said, giving them better insight into evaluating a person such as Hill, whom they initially believed was faking.
The case has attracted national attention. Two state court judges have found that Hill was mentally retarded, but they said Hill only proved that he was more likely than not mentally retarded.
That’s not strong enough proof in Georgia, which is the only state in the country that requires capital defendants to prove mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a finding for Hill means he would be sentenced to life in prison.
At the ACLU Blog of Rights, Brian Stull posts, "How Do I Explain to my Six Year-Old Son What Kind of a Society Plans to Execute an Intellectually Disabled Man?"
So what gives? If the court, the victims' family, and Hill's childhood teachers all say that Hill is intellectually disabled, then how can he be executed? The answer is a technicality, a glitch, a quirk in Georgia law. Georgia stands alone among death-penalty states in requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt of intellectual disability before barring execution. The Georgia judge found beyond a reasonable doubt that Hill had an IQ of 70 or below, but only by a "preponderance of the evidence" that he suffers adaptive limitations and that he began suffering his disability before the age of 18. A "preponderance of the evidence" is lawyer-speak for more likely than not. In other words, Georgia says to Hill, we're pretty sure you're intellectually disabled, but we find you don't meet our very high standard of proof.
Society shows its best self when it takes care of its disabled, makes available needed services, allows for equal education and other opportunities. And of course we don't require the disabled to prove their disability beyond a reasonable doubt -- the highest standard of proof known to law (designed, as we have previously explained, for a completely different purpose). We provide these services and opportunities without anything like this kind of scrutiny because it's the right thing to do. It's also the right thing to do to stop this execution from proceeding on a technicality. Hill's pending petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asks the Court to stop the execution, and in turn to save us from our worst selves. Let's hope they do.