Execution date set for man convicted of killing fellow inmate in Georgia

ATLANTA — A Georgia man who killed a fellow inmate in 1990 is set to be executed later this month, the state Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

The execution of Warren Lee Hill has been scheduled for July 18 at 7 p.m., Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a statement.

Hill was convicted in July 1991 on charges of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. The jury recommended the death sentence in August 1991.

Hill and Joseph Hand­spike were both serving sentences for murder at the Lee Correctional Institution when Hill beat Handspike to death, authorities said. Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of his 18-year-old girlfriend, who was shot 11 times.

During Hill’s trial for Handspike’s murder, a correctional officer testified that he went to the inmates’ sleeping quarters early in the morning after hearing a loud noise. The officer and another witness testified that Hill attacked Handspike when he was asleep and unable to defend himself and used a board to beat him badly in the upper body and face. Inmates who witnessed the attack testified that Hill looked like someone “chopping wood with an ax.”

A clinical psychologist who testified during the sentencing phase of Hill’s trial said Hill was of below normal intelligence and had evidence of organic brain damage. But the doctor also said Hill knew the difference between right and wrong and was capable to stand trial.

In a case brought by Hill’s defense, a federal appeals court ruled last year that death penalty defendants in Georgia have to prove they are mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt to avoid execution, the most stringent legal standard in the nation.

His case eventually landed before the Georgia Supreme Court, which narrowly voted to uphold the law. The standard was struck down by a divided 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in 2010, but the full court pulled an about-face in November after hearing oral arguments earlier in the year.

The 11th Circuit decision said it couldn’t strike down the Georgia law “even if we believe it incorrect or unwise” because the Supreme Court empowered each state to create its own definition for the mentally disabled.

Hill’s petition to have his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was denied last month.

Hill’s defense attorney Brian Kammer expressed disappointment Tuesday about the scheduling of Hill’s execution. He pointed out that a county judge, upon reconsideration, said there was a genuine possibility that Hill is mentally disabled.

“Warren Hill’s execution would represent a tragic repudiation of Georgia’s longstanding commitment to protecting mentally retarded people from execution,” he said.

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