Staff editorial: Warren Hill execution shows flaws in the system

Duke Staff

Warren Hill, 54, was executed by the state of Georgia Tuesday for killing his cellmate in 1990. He was put in jail originally for killing his girlfriend in 1986. In 1991 he was sentenced to death. Whether you believe in capital punishment or not, the fact of the matter remains that Hill wouldn’t have died if he lived in a different state.

Warren Hill was mentally handicapped, and under the protection of the Eighth Amendment in conjunction with the 2002 U.S Supreme Court Atkins v. Virginia ruling that prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, he would escaped death.

Hill had a violent upbringing and scored a 70 on a public school intelligence test that put him in the bottom two percent of the population. Furthermore, all seven doctors who’ve examined Hill agreed in unison that Hill had an intellectual disability. Why then was Hill executed?

Because of Federal and state legal terms that don’t add up.

In the judicial system, “preponderance of evidence” determines the greater weight of evidence required to decide in favor of one side or the other. Something the Georgia courts have found twice in favor of Hill having a mental disability.

However, this was not enough.

Georgia, the only state in America that requires defendants to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” the heaviest burden of proof that the law can require. This means that Hill would have to prove that no other logical explanation could be made from the facts and evidence of the crime. An impossible task for someone with a mental disability to prove in the state of Georgia.

For Hill to be protected by the Atkins decision, he would have had to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt. But since medical diagnoses are based on a “reasonable” decision, Hill was caught between legal clauses.

This clear negation of federal and state requirements is an unfair consequence of an already corrupt system. Outside of the court, why does it take the murdering of his wife and cellmate to get a man mentally examined and cared for?

Look. We’re not justifying actions. Nor are we equating low IQ scores to sociopathic tendencies. We are however concerned with how mental health and how it is treated and defined on both the federal and state level.

Holding people with mental disorders to the same standard of sane citizens is a double standard regardless if it’s in the court or in the street. Not only is Georgia’s ruling unjust, it’s inhuman.