ATLANTA -- The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously granted a stay of execution for inmate Warren Lee Hill on Monday.
Hill was scheduled to die by lethal injection Monday evening, but his attorney appealed on the grounds that the state violated protocol when changing its lethal injection drugs last week.
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Georgia previously used a three-drug cocktail when performing lethal injections. Last week, the process was changed to use only one drug. The sedative pentobarbital, previously the first of the three-drug cocktail, will now be the only drug administered in a lethal dose.
Hill gained national attention when activists protested his execution on the grounds that he in mentally retarded. Georgia outlawed the execution of mentally retarded inmates in 1988, but the state requires mental retardation be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
According to the judge's ruling, there was enough evidence to indicate that Hill is mentally retarded, but his attorney did not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Georgia's standard for determining mental retardation is the toughest in the country. Hill's case has sparked a national call to change the law.
"You cannot do that beyond a reasonable doubt," said Rev. Ed Loring with Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
"That is a burden of proof that is unreasonable," he said.
The Georgia Supreme Court separately denied Hill's appeal to review his mental retardation claim.
Hill was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. He was already incarcerated for the 1985 murder of his 18-year-old girlfriend.
The term "mental retardation" in the story refers to the specific language in the state law -- which is cited specifically in the state code: http://law.onecle.com/georgia/17/17-7-131.html
(a) For purposes of this Code section, the term:
(1) 'Insane at the time of the crime' means meeting the criteria of Code Section 16-3-2 or Code Section 16-3-3. However, the term shall not include a mental state manifested only by repeated unlawful or antisocial conduct.
(2) 'Mentally ill' means having a disorder of thought or mood which significantly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life. However, the term 'mental illness' shall not include a mental state manifested only by repeated unlawful or antisocial conduct.
(3) 'Mentally retarded' means having significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning resulting in or associated with impairments in adaptive behavior which manifested during the developmental period.
(b)(1) In all cases in which the defense of insanity is interposed, the jury, or the court if tried by it, shall find whether the defendant is:
(B) Not guilty;
(C) Not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the crime;
(D) Guilty but mentally ill at the time of the crime, but the finding of guilty but mentally ill shall be made only in felony cases; or
(E) Guilty but mentally retarded, but the finding of mental retardation shall be made only in felony cases.
The state law that ties to this case (Georgia Code - Criminal Procedure - Title 17, Section 17-7-131) specifically cites a degree of mental impairment when it comes to defining guilt or innocence. It refers to and creates specific definitions for "insane at the time of the crime", "mentally ill" and "mentally retarded" in relation to whether or not an individual is competent and capable of understanding what has taken place during the commission of a crime.
The language in our report is not intended to offend anyone, but to be specific in relation to the language and letter of the law itself.