Convicted killer granted last-minute stay of execution

Warren Lee Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright, when he killed a fellow prisoner by beating him to death.

ATLANTA — A Georgia man convicted of killing two people and described by his lawyers as mentally disabled was granted last-minute stays of execution Tuesday by a U.S. federal appeals court and a state appeals court, his lawyer said.

Warren Lee Hill, 52, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday night for beating a fellow inmate in 1990 to death while serving a life sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend.

Brian Kammer, one of Hill's attorneys, said the execution would be halted temporarily after the stays granted by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The federal court decision came in response to appeals by Hill's lawyers arguing he is mentally retarded, Kammer said. The decision by the Georgia state court followed a legal challenge over the state's method of executing Hill by lethal injection, he said.

In 1988, Georgia became the first U.S. state to enact a law banning the execution of mentally retarded defendants. But according to death-penalty experts, Georgia has perhaps the toughest standard in the nation for defining mental retardation, requiring proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Last week, Kammer filed affidavits in a Georgia court by three doctors who evaluated Hill for the state 13 years ago and now believe after further review that he is mentally retarded.

"There is now unanimous consensus among all experts who have evaluated Mr. Hill over the last 22 years," Kammer told Reuters on Monday. "Mr. Hill should be deemed to have met Georgia's uniquely stringent burden of proof for proving mental retardation."

However, in court documents, the state of Georgia said the three state doctors reviewed "extensive materials" before concluding in 2000 that he was not mentally disabled and were thoroughly cross-examined by Hill's attorneys at the time.

The doctors noted in 2000 that Hill had been a recruiter for the Navy, budgeted his money and was a "father figure" for his siblings, the state said in court documents.

In the new affidavits, one doctor called the earlier evaluation of Hill "extremely and unusually rushed" while another said his opinions of Hill in 2000 were "unreliable because of my lack of experience at the time."

A third doctor cited "advances in the understanding of mental retardation" since 2000 as a reason for changing his findings.

Georgia postponed Hill's execution last summer after the state announced it would use one drug instead of three for lethal injections of condemned inmates.

Georgia officials did not say what prompted the change to the single drug. But in a legal challenge, Kammer said Georgia's supply of pancuronium bromide — one of the three drugs previously used in lethal injections — expired July 1.

Kammer had argued corrections officials did not give the required notice under state law of the change, depriving his client adequate time to review the new procedure. The Georgia Supreme Court turned down the appeal Feb. 4.

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