In a previous post, we wrote about how a Georgia inmate was to be executed on Monday despite some evidence that he was mentally disabled. At the time we wrote that post, it seemed like he had run out of time and of options.
But at the last minute, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously granted a stay of execution for the inmate, who has been convicted of two murders. However, the court's decision was not related to the man's alleged mental retardation.
Instead, the court granted the appeal because Georgia recently switched to a single-drug method of execution. Previously, Georgia used a three-drug blend of sedatives and muscle relaxants that was designed to ensure that a person being executed slipped out of consciousness and then died quickly and painlessly. Now, with the new single-drug method, there are concerns that this means of execution constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because a painless death is less certain.
The inmate was sentenced to life in prison for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend. He was then sentenced to death for killing another inmate in 1990. His lawyer has claimed that he has an IQ of 70, but Georgia courts have said he has not reached the evidentiary standard for proving that he is mentally disabled. That, in turn, has prompted death penalty critics to say that Georgia's standard of proof for mental disability is impossible to meet. (Whether he is mentally disabled is a very important question because the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute those with significant mental disabilities.)
As you can probably tell, we are seeing very important criminal law questions arise in connection with this case. We will keep following this man's story and will keep you abreast of any noteworthy developments.
Source: The Associated Press, "Georgia halts Monday execution of Warren Lee Hill," July 24, 2012
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