The lawyers of hill, who was twice convicted of murder, have been claiming for years that their client only has an intelligence quotient of 70 and the mental abilities of a 12-year-old. This means he could not be executed under current law. In addition to human rights activists, the leading legal association in the u.S. And medical experts, celebrities such as ex-president jimmy carter had also argued that the delinquent should be spared.
U.S. Supreme court bans executions of mentally retarded in 2002 as "cruel and unusual punishment". But the criteria for determining mental disability are left up to the states. Georgia applies the strictest standards: it requires that the disability must be proven "beyond reasonable doubt". This condition is not met in the case of hill, argue the authorities. Because of an objection to the execution method, hill had already narrowly escaped execution last summer.
In 1986, he killed his 18-year-old girlfriend, received a life sentence for it, and then beat a fellow inmate to death in 1990. This second murder earned him the death penalty.
In fact, three experts hired by the state had certified in 2000 that hill was not mentally retarded. However, they later rescinded this rating – partly on the grounds that they had only given the prisoner a cursory examination at the time. It was mainly on this basis that hill’s lawyers had again appealed to several courts in the past week in order to stop the execution.
"All experts – both state and those used by hill’s attorneys – now appear to conclude that he is indeed mentally retarded," the atlanta journal-constitution newspaper quotes the judges as saying. Accusers had argued that hill was only faking his handicap. He had served in the navy, for example, and was seen as an authority on many issues within his family.
According to the newspaper, hill had already been given a sedative at his own request before the execution date on tuesday evening, when the court orders to stop arrived by telephone. Accordingly, a federal appeals court in georgia stayed the execution for further consideration of the mental retardation argument.
Another state authority blocked the execution because of the execution method. According to the media report, the defenders of hill and other prisoners sentenced to death had objected to the fact that the injection in georgia now contains only one chemical instead of three – and that this single substance is administered without any prescription from a doctor.
Hill had already received an extension last summer. The fact that the supreme court refused to grant him a stay suggests that this time it could possibly be the last, the newspaper concludes. He was the youngest case in a long judicial tradition in the USA: the death penalty information center has paid for 1321 executions there since 1976.