Statement released by Georgia Council On Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson at the Georgia Capitol today in the wake of the scheduled 7:00 PM execution of Warren Hill:
The United States Supreme Court should intervene in this case to ensure that the protection they have granted for the "mentally retarded" against the death penalty is realized. If the court does not act, a man with an undisputed intellectual disability will be unconstitutionally put to death today.
As the Executive Director of Georgia's Council on Developmental Disabilities, I have strongly advocated for state and federal legislation that protects our nations most vulnerable citizens. Our organization, and those like us across the country have supported many laws, including those that protect people with intellectual disabilities from execution. This supports the position of the United States Supreme Court in its landmark 2002 Atkins v Virginia ruling, noting that people with intellectual disabilities are less culpable for their actions and are at greater risk for wrongful execution. His execution would be contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which banned the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.
Nobody disputes that Warren Hill has an intellectual disability. As a boy growing up in Elberton, GA his teachers testified and standardized testing proved he was functioning academically far below his peers. He also demonstrated adaptive delays, in conceptual, social and practical skills.
This entire case is confusing to those who know the law and are advocates for people with intellectual disabilities. On the one hand, in 1988, Georgia was the first state in our nation to enact a law protecting people with intellectual disability from the death penalty. The state law prohibiting capital punishment for individuals with intellectual disabilities, followed widespread public outcry after the execution of Jerome Bowden, a man with an I.Q. score in the 60s.
Georgia courts have repeatedly found that Mr. Hill is intellectually disabled by a preponderance of the evidence. He is only at risk of execution because the State of Georgia requires the strictest burden of proof in the nation for defendants to prove they have intellectual disability. The Georgia judges reviewing the case agree that Mr. Hill is "mentally retarded" by a preponderance of the evidence. Even the Georgia Attorney General's office declined to dispute this finding in court.
Despite being the first state to protect citizens with intellectual disability from capital punishment and that nobody contests that Mr. Hill has an intellectual disability, he is still scheduled to be executed. Why? Because Georgia has the strictest standard in the nation for proving intellectual disability. State law requires that individuals prove they have intellectual disability "beyond a reasonable doubt," a powerful legal concept that does not translate into the way individuals are assessed to determine if they have a intellectual disability. So, while Georgia never contested Mr. Hill's intellectual disability or I.Q. of 70, he was not able to meet the burden of proof.
Only Georgia's unique "reasonable doubt" burden of proof restrained the Georgia courts from effectuating the Supreme Court's command that people like Mr. Hill must be protected from wrongful execution. As a result of this standard, the Georgia Supreme Court has not been satisfied that Mr. Hill proved his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt.
All doctors who have examined Mr. Hill unanimously agree that he is a person with intellectual disability. Three state doctors who testified in 2000 that Mr. Hill did not have intellectual disability have now revised their diagnosis, after more carefully reviewing the case, to affirm that Mr. Hill does have intellectual disability. All nine doctors who have examined Mr. Hill are now in agreement in their diagnoses: Mr. Hill is intellectually disabled.
The protections that exist under the law for people with intellectual disability are vitally important to our democracy. People with intellectual disability deserve to live as full citizens of this country and state, protected by laws designed to recognize our diversity and uphold our basic rights, despite our differences. We, in Georgia will continue to fight to bring our state into alignment with other states by working with policy makers to change the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. In the mean time, the United States Supreme Court must stop the execution of Warren Hill.