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Court halts execution of 'disabled' inmate

20 February 2013, 08:44

Georgia - A federal appeals court halted the execution on Tuesday of a Georgia man who killed a fellow prisoner in 1990, granting a last-minute stay to the inmate who defence attorneys argued was mentally disabled.

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling for Warren Lee Hill as corrections officials prepared his lethal injection for later in the evening.

Earlier in the day, the state parole board, the Supreme Court of Georgia and the US Supreme Court had all declined to stop the execution.

"We are greatly relieved that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Warren Hill, a person with mental retardation. All the doctors who have examined Mr Hill are unanimous in their diagnosis of mental retardation," defence attorney Brian Kammer said in an email.

Hill was sentenced to death for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike.

Authorities say he used a board studded with nails to bludgeon Handspike while he slept as other prisoners watched and pleaded with Hill to stop.

At the time Hill was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who had been shot 11 times.

Support from former president

Hill's lawyers argue that he is mentally disabled and therefore shouldn't be executed. The state maintains that the defence failed to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Hill is mentally disabled.

Hill has received support from various activists and from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.

"Georgia should not violate its own prohibition against executing individuals with serious diminished capacity," Jimmy Carter said in a statement.

Death penalty defendants in Georgia have to prove they are mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt to avoid execution, the strictest standard in the US.

Hill's lawyers have said the high standard for proving mental disability is problematic because psychiatric diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome.

But Georgia's strict standard has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts.

- AP


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