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October 19, 2013

Talk in Georgia about modifying its (too) tough approach to Atkins death penalty issue

This new AP article, headlined "Ga. to review tough death penalty provision," reports about talk of possible reform to Georgia's application of the constitutionally mandated death penalty exception for the mentally retarded.  Here are excerpts:

The state that was the first to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates is revisiting a requirement for defendants to prove the disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest burden of proof in the nation.

A state House committee is holding an out-of-session meeting Thursday to seek input from the public. Other states that impose the death penalty have a lower threshold for proving mental disability, and some don't set standards at all....

Georgia's law is the strictest in the U.S. even though the state was also the first, in 1988, to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 2002, ruling that the execution of mentally disabled offenders is unconstitutional....

Thursday's meeting comes against the backdrop of the case of Warren Lee Hill, who was sentenced to die for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike, who was bludgeoned with a nail-studded board as he slept. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who was shot 11 times. Hil

l's lawyers have long maintained he is mentally disabled and therefore shouldn't be executed. The state has consistently argued that his lawyers have failed to prove his mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt. Hill has come within hours of execution on several occasions, most recently in July. Each time, a court has stepped in at the last minute and granted a delay based on challenges raised by his lawyers. Only one of those challenges was related to his mental abilities, and it was later dismissed.

A coalition of groups that advocate for people with developmental disabilities pushed for the upcoming legislative committee meeting and has been working to get Georgia's standard of proof changed to a preponderance of the evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Hill's case has drawn national attention and has shone a spotlight on Georgia's tough standard, they say.

The process has taken an enormous amount of education, said Kathy Keeley, executive director of All About Developmental Disabilities. Rather than opposition to or support for the measure she's pushing, she's mostly encountered a lack of awareness about what the state's law says, she said. The groups are hoping to not only express their views at the meeting, but also to hear from others to get a broader perspective, Keeley said. The changes should be relatively simple and very narrow in scope, targeting only the burden of proof for death penalty defendants, she said.

Ashley Wright, district attorney for the Augusta district and president of the state District Attorneys' Association, said prosecutors question the logic of changing a law that they don't see as problematic and that has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts. "The district attorneys don't believe that you change a law for no reason and, in this case, the law appears to be working," she said. "Where has a jury done a disservice? Why are we putting all our eggs in the defendant's basket and forgetting that there's a victim?"

Prosecutors agree that the mentally disabled shouldn't be executed, and defendants are frequently spared the death penalty when there is proof of their mental disability supported by appropriate documentation from credible and reliable experts, she said.

But Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, argues that psychiatric diagnoses are complex, and "experts who have to make diagnoses do not do so beyond a reasonable doubt, they do it to a reasonable scientific certainty." Furthermore, he said, disagreements between experts make the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard nearly impossible to meet.... In Hill's case, a state court judge concluded the defendant was probably mentally disabled. In any other state, that would have spared him the death penalty, Kammer said.

October 19, 2013 at 06:16 PM | Permalink

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"Ashley Wright, district attorney for the Augusta district and president of the state District Attorneys' Association, said prosecutors question the logic of changing a law that they don't see as problematic and that has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts."

Repeatedly upheld by WHAT???

Oh, never mind.........

I mean, HELLO. The only reason the "compassionate" Left wants Hill spared is so that he'll be able to do it again, as he already has (while in supposedly secure confinement).

How many people does this guy have to bludgeon to death before he gets the punishment behavior like that has earned?

That's an actual question. How many?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 19, 2013 6:26:07 PM

Rod Serling would say,"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call "The Twilight Zone"."

Let's review Atkins. Ran a drug business in a tough neighborhood at age 9. Why not in school? Because attendance would severely curtail his income. Because the IQ is a measure that measures school performance, his educational deprivation resulted in a poor performance on a test, assuming sincere effort on his part. He lures a competitor into his car, drives somewhere and shoots him.

Meanwhile, the authority on mental retardation changes the definition to a more general, functional one, with six dimensions.

http://wps.ablongman.com/wps/media/objects/1371/1404729/handouts/Chapter10.pdf

Atkins does not satisfy the new definition, but certainly the Justices of the Supreme come closer than he does.

Now, Atkins spends a lot of time with his appellate lawyers. His vocabulary expands to such an extent, his score on an IQ test is above 70. He is now death qualified even according to the criteria used by the Supreme Court.

Now, Mr. Hill. What kind of native intellectual ability does it take to make a nail studded board inside a prison?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 19, 2013 10:46:10 PM

Not only that, but you just know that any change is going to spawn even more litigation.

Hell, even if they just study it and decide that the current framework is indeed fine that will generate litigation saying the panel should have come out with a different answer.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 19, 2013 11:01:23 PM

Mr. Hill.

Prime example for the idea that Life Without Parole is a license to kill in the absence of a working death penalty, with absolute legal immunity. The death penalty is to incapacitate, not to punish. Some do not learn from punishment and need to be gone. Perhaps, the opponents of the death penalty will even object to his losing his cafeteria privileges.

Kathy Keeley, executive director of All About Developmental Disabilities.

Heartless enemy of murder victims, past and future (with the certainty of planetary orbits). Morally reprehensible. A disgusting human being.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 20, 2013 11:17:00 AM

I do think that they should be able to prove it with a doubt, how many people have played stupid and gotten away with lesser punishments?

Posted by: Adam | Oct 20, 2013 2:03:06 PM

If someone kills during LWOP, the sole remedy is to increase personal supervision by increasing the number and cost of staffing. That is, of course, the real motivation of the lawyer, to force an increase in the number of government jobs, rather than the pretextual, and flimsy constitutional arguments they present.

Rent seeking should be criminalized.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 20, 2013 2:51:35 PM

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