Should a man with an IQ of 70 be on death row?

Warren Hill won a reprieve 30 minutes before he was due to be lethally injected. But it may prove temporary...

He killed twice, and twice the state of Georgia has attempted to kill him. But for now Warren Hill, 53, is still breathing. His most recent rendezvous with the executioner, at 7pm on Tuesday night, was again averted by the intervention of two courts, with just 30 minutes to go.

But the victory for his lawyers, who argue that their client should be spared the death penalty because he is intellectually impaired, may be fleeting. It remained unclear last night how durable the twin reprieves will be – one court ordered a stay of at least 30 days. If and when they lapse, execution may still come quickly.

Hill had been serving a life sentence for shooting dead his 18-year-old girlfriend when, in 1990, he bludgeoned his prison cellmate to death with a board studded with nails. The second murder earned him a death sentence and last July the state came within 90 minutes of doing the deed before a stay was issued.

On Tuesday it was closer. Just half an hour more and they would have dispatched him by lethal injection. Indeed, attendants had already administered the oral sedative Ativan to calm him before being taken to the death chamber.

One of the stays was from the Georgia Court of Appeals to address concerns about how the death chamber handles the drugs used in lethal injections.

But the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court, took up the issue that has been the main fight of Hill’s lawyers – that he is mentally impaired. He has a recorded IQ of just 70.

A 2002 US Supreme Court ruling outlaws the execution of anyone who does not have their full mental faculties. However, Georgia says it is incumbent on the defendant to prove “mental retardation” and to do so “beyond a reasonable doubt”. No other state with capital punishment on its books sets such a standard.

Brian Kammer, Hill’s lead lawyer, said that in issuing its stay, the federal court ordered “a further briefing on the issue of mental retardation”.

The position of the defence appeared to be bolstered recently after three doctors, who at the time of Hill’s trial said they did not consider him retarded, recanted their testimony, saying that advances in treatment and diagnosis had prompted them to change their minds.

“All the doctors who have examined Mr Hill are unanimous in their diagnosis of mental retardation, so there is no question that his execution would have been in violation of the US Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling,” Mr Kammer said in a statement after the stay was issued.

The case has drawn international attention including from the European Union which had called for clemency. “This case has raised attention around the world, with particular concern around Mr Hill’s intellectual disability,” said Annabelle Malins, the British consul general in Atlanta. Former President Jimmy Carter also issued a statement on Tuesday on behalf of himself and his wife. “Georgia should not violate its own prohibition against executing individuals with serious diminished capacity,” it said.

Demonstrating that Hill qualifies as ‘mentally retarded’ remains the defence’s first challenge. “The state of Georgia remains an extreme outlier in requiring that defendants prove they have mental retardation ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ This is the strictest standard in any jurisdiction in the nation,” Mr Kammer said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links