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.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star