As Execution Approches, Some In GOP Want Review Of Mental Disability Standard

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The state parole board Tuesday morning denied clemency for Warren Lee Hill. He’s scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. tonight. Hill’s attorneys say their client’s intellectual disability bars the state from moving forward with the execution.

Federal law prohibits executing the mentally disabled but Georgia applies the nation’s toughest standard for proving a person is disabled.

Officials say Hill has an IQ of 70 and the emotional capacity of an 11-year-old. But the state argues Hill’s attorneys have not proven his disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Georgia is the only state to require that standard. In other states, attorneys must only show the disability is probable.

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate say they’re willing to review Georgia’s standard, but all stopped short of committing to action.

Wendell Williard, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed concern.

“I think the standard needs to be revisited,” said Willard. “I think if we stand alone on that issue then there’s a justification to examine why we’re the only one.”

Jesse Stone, the Republican chair of the Senate non-civil judiciary committee, suggested the same.

“I understand Georgia has a strict standard compared to other states. Generally speaking, Georgia tries to stay in the mainstream so it may be worth reviewing but I haven’t seen a bill come up yet.”

Stone’s counterpart on the House non-civil judiciary committee, Rich Golick, said despite the controversy he’s observed little debate on the issue.

“I haven’t heard a groundswell within the chamber or in the other body on the issue itself. At this point, I have no legislation that’s pending personally but if a bill we’re to [be introduced] we would certainly give it consideration as we do any other piece of serious legislation ,” said Golick.   

Georgia was actually the first state to outlaw executing the mentally disabled. That was in 1988. It’s also when Georgia began applying the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, says he’s introduced legislation in the past aimed at changing the standard, but according to Fort, it’s always gained little traction.

Among those speaking out against Hill’s execution are former President Jimmy Carter, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Georgia Bar Association, the Council of Europe, the Archbishop of Atlanta, and a family member of one of Hill’s victims.