Warren Lee Hill Jr., Joseph Handspike, And Myra Wright
On July 19, at the facility in Jackson GA, the state is scheduled to poison Warren Lee Hill Jr. “The State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday denied clemency to a man whose lawyer says is mentally disabled and should not be executed. Warren Lee Hill is set to be put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday at the state prison in Jackson.”
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens issued a press advisory, Execution Date Set for Warren Lee Hill, Convicted of Ruthless Murder of Fellow Prison Inmate. Here is what it says about the crimes that led to this punishment.
“In August of 1990, Hill and the victim, Joseph Handspike, were both incarcerated for murder at the Lee Correctional Institution (hereinafter Lee C.I.). Hill was serving a life sentence for murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright, in 1986 by shooting her eleven times.
During Hill’s trial for the Handspike’s murder, a Lee C.I. correctional officer testified that at 5:10 a.m., he heard a loud noise emanating from the inmates’ sleeping quarters in Wing C. Upon entering the wing to investigate, the officer witnessed Hill bludgeoning the victim, who was lying in his bed. The officer quickly returned to his station, called for backup, and opened the security gate to allow other officers to enter and assist. He then returned to the scene and saw that Hill had ceased beating the victim. The officer demanded that Hill surrender his weapon, and Hill complied handing over the board he had used in the beating.
A correctional officer and the other witness testified that the victim was attacked while he was sleeping, and that he was unable to defend himself. Witnesses testified the board used to murder the victim was a “2 x 6 that had been trimmed down to a leg,” and that the board had been a support for a sink in the bathroom of Wing C at the institution. In addition, there was testimony that several nails protruded from one end of the board.
In regards to the victim’s injuries, a correctional officer testified that the victim was badly beaten in the upper body and face. The victim was bleeding profusely from his wounds, several teeth were knocked out and his left eye was detached from the socket. The victim, who was still conscious, attempted to raise himself and speak to the correctional officer; however, he was unable to speak and had blood pouring from his mouth.
Following the attack, the victim was taken to the hospital where an emergency room doctor attempted to save his life for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. The victim was subsequently pronounced dead from blunt head trauma.”
There is little doubt that Mr. Hill committed the crimes. The issue that many have with the execution is the indications that Mr. Hill is mentally retarded. It seems to break down to how you measure things. From the press advisory :
During the sentencing phase of Hill’s trial, the defense called several mitigation witnesses. Specifically, defense counsel presented testimony from Hill’s family and from a clinical psychologist, Dr. William Dickinson. At trial, Dr. Dickinson testified that Hill was of below normal intelligence and had evidence of organic brain damage. Dr. Dickinson admitted, however, that Hill knew the difference between right and wrong, was capable to stand trial for both murders that he committed, that he has a history of explosive episodes, that Hill told him he had been in fights in prison and that he had the potential to be violent in the future.
Evidence also established that family members prior to trial described Hill as “the leader of the family,” noting that he basically “took over the family” and the care of the family from his father at an early age. Hill’s siblings, who were by then adults, related that he “had been their father figure” and depended on him to provide them with food, clothing, and “paternal guidance.” Both his siblings and his mother looked to Hill as the “man of the house.” A high school friend, who at the time of trial was working as an electrical engineer for Scientific Atlanta designing telecommunication systems, described Hill as “bright,” “sharp,” “mature” and “level-headed.” Evidence also showed that, following the completion of high school, Hill entered the Navy where he rose to the rank of Seaman Second Class.
While incarcerated for the murder of his girlfriend, Petitioner was evaluated for prison and it was determined that he was of average intelligence or better, and that, “inmate Hill’s intelligence level (could) support skilled and semi-skilled training and an average degree of work status and responsibility.” Hill was then transferred to Lee C. I. in August of 1989.
On November 22, 2011, The US Court of Appeals decided not to help Mr. Hill. The opinion notes that at the trial, and the first appeal, that no assertion of mental retardation was made. On page 14 of the opinion, footnote seven discusses several tests given to Mr. Hill. These tests estimate his I.Q. as being between 69 and 77.
Huffington Post contributes this: “A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 forbids imposing capital punishment on the “mentally retarded.” The ruling in Atkins v. Virginia left it up to states to define that group of people. Georgia was the first state to outlaw the death penalty for people with mental retardation in 1988, but the state’s legal code says a defendant must prove retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. No other state sets such a heavy burden of proof, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A state judge held that Hill’s lawyers had proved his mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower threshold. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned that finding in 2003, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled against Hill in November 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take his case.”
Peach Pundit posted an editorial from the “Courier Herald”, which says: “Nephew and family spokesperson Richard Handspike has written a detailed affidavit on behalf of his family noting that at no time was his family asked for victim impact statements or even informed of Hill’s trial proceedings. He notes that the family does “not want Mr. Hill to be executed, and we believe a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate and just resolution for this case and for us as the family of Joseph Handspike.” Richard Handspike included details that he was not a distant relative, and was in fact close to the victim. He also was the family member that was called to the prison to identify his Uncle’s body. He is not a contrived prop being trotted out by a desperate defense team.”
UPDATE The execution was delayed until Monday, July 23. The State of Georgia will use an overdose of Pentobarbital to kill Mr. Hill. UPDATE TWO The State Supreme Court issued a stay of execution Monday. This stay concerns the change from a three drug protocol, to a one drug deliberate overdose. UPDATE THREE The Georgia Supreme Court has given a green light for the execution of Mr. Hill. UPDATE FOUR The execution is now scheduled for July 15, 2013. Vintage pictures are from The Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library. The image of GDC ID: 0000422090 is from The Georgia Department of Corrections.