In 2002, the US Supreme Court banned execution of prisoners with “mental retardation” as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Warren Hill, with an IQ of 70, was ruled by a judge to be “mentally retarded” by a preponderance of the evidence. But in Georgia, as in no other state, prisoners must prove their “mental retardation” beyond a reasonable doubt. Defining and measuring “mental retardation” is not an exact science – even IQ scores can vary based on the type of test given – so proving it beyond a reasonable doubt is virtually impossible.
By using this unreasonable “reasonable doubt” standard, Georgia has found a way to evade the spirit of the Supreme Court’s important 2002 decision, and to continue killing intellectually disabled prisoners.
Mental health and disability groups like the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities oppose Mr. Hill’s execution. And, as the Georgia Council’s Executive Director Eric Jacobson points out this week in the Huffington Post, several jurors and the victim’s family also object to the state’s continued efforts to put Warren Hill to death.
Last summer, Richard Handspike, speaking for the victim’s family, wrote in a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles: “I and my family feel strongly that persons with any kind of significant mental disabilities should not be put to death.”
The Georgia Board, however, rejected calls for clemency.
So the Supreme Court needs to step in. Prohibiting execution of the “mentally retarded” should mean just that. And with Warren Hill’s case the Supreme Court can make that clear.