Why the European Union is outraged about an execution in Georgia


If he were in any other state, today would probably not be the last day of Warren Hill’s life.

Hill, who was sentenced for murdering his girlfriend in 1986, and later for murdering his prison cellmate in 1991, is serving a death sentence in Georgia. There is no doubt: his crimes are heinous.

But with an IQ of 70, he has repeatedly been found to have an intellectual disability, and executing people with an intellectual disability was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2002 in the Atkins v. Virginia case.

So why is he set to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.?

“Because in Georgia, the burden of proof is unreasonably high,” writes Peter Berns, CEO of the Office of the Arc, an organization that advocates for people and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “There, a defendant must prove that he has an intellectual disability ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ to come under the protection of the Atkins decision. Georgia is the only state that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the heaviest burden of proof the law can require.”

And that unique standard, Berns adds, “makes it nearly impossible to prove intellectual disability for defendants in Georgia,” even if the courts find an intellectual disability exists with a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This twice happened in Hill’s case.

Other states have controversial intellectual disability standards as well, including Texas, which plans to execute a man with an IQ of 67 this Thursday.

Hill’s case in particular has drawn international scrutiny.

Last Thursday, David O’Sullivan, ambassador for the Delegation of the European Union to the United States wrote an open letter to Terry Barnard, the Chairman of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“The European Union strongly believes that the execution of persons suffering from a mental disability is contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and is in contradiction to the minimum standards of human rights set forth in several international human rights instruments, as well as being prohibited by the U.S. Constitution,” the letter reads.

On Monday, after the Board of Paroles and Pardons denied a final attempt from Hill’s lawyers to halt the planned execution, O’Sullivan wrote in an email to Fusion: “We find the continued attempts by Georgia officials to execute someone with diminished mental capacity like Mr. Hill, to be a significant breach of well-known international standards. We simply fail to see how Mr. Hill’s death will bring any solace to the survivors of the victim for whom we have the deepest sympathy.”

It is not the first time the EU has spoken out against American capital punishment.

An entire section of the Union’s website is dedicated to its fight against the practice. “Abolition of the death penalty is a prerequisite for EU membership,” it notes.

The American Bar Association, the Georgia NAACP, the ACLU, and the Council of Europe have all condemned Tuesday’s planned execution, which will be Georgia’s second this year.

A press release from the Georgia Department of Corrections outlines how Hill will be spending some of his last moments:

“He will be offered the institutional meal tray, consisting of Shepherd pie, mashed potatoes, red beans, cabbage relish salad, corn bread, sugar cookies and fruit punch.”

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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