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Warren Lee Hill, Mentally Disabled Death Row Inmate, Appeals To Georgia Parole Board

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Warren Lee Hill Jr. is on death row in Georgia.
Warren Lee Hill Jr. is on death row in Georgia.

Lawyers for a mentally disabled man on death row have one last-ditch appeal to avert his execution next week.

The defense for convicted killer Warren Lee Hill Jr. will argue to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Friday that putting him to death is an inhumane punishment because of his mental limitations.

"It is morally wrong to execute someone who has been found more likely than not to be mentally retarded," said Hill's lawyer Brian Kammer. "It's kind of a tragedy."

Hill, 52, is slated to die by lethal injection on July 18 for murdering his sleeping prison cellmate with a board in 1990. He was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend by shooting her 11 times in 1986.

Kammer, executive director of the Georgia Resource Center, hopes to get Hill's sentence reduced to life without the possibility of parole.

Hill's IQ is roughly 70, putting him inside the range of mental retardation. His mental capacity peaked at the development of a sixth-grader, Kammer told The Huffington Post.

Hill had nonetheless led an independent life. He drove a car, held a job and sent money to his mother, Kammer said.

"A lot of people think these are not within the range of people with mental retardation," Kammer said, "but that is not the case. He has very severe deficits."

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 forbids imposing capital punishment on the "mentally retarded." The ruling in Atkins v. Virginia left it up to states to define that group of people.

Georgia was the first state to outlaw the death penalty for people with mental retardation in 1988, but the state's legal code says a defendant must prove retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. No other state sets such a heavy burden of proof, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

A state judge held that Hill's lawyers had proved his mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower threshold. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned that finding in 2003, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled against Hill in November 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take his case.

A mounting chorus is asking for mercy for Hill, including a New York Times editorial this past Friday urging the Board of Pardons and Paroles to make a "just decision" and commute the death sentence.

The board has commuted the death sentences of four inmates since 2000. During that time, 27 Georgia inmates whose requests the board denied have been executed. Clemency hearings before the board's five members are held in private. A spokesman for the board said he's not permitted to reveal if prosecutors or members of the victim's family will speak.

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