Georgia court denies stay for death row inmate claiming mental disability

Warren Lee Hill is shown in this undated Georgia Department of Corrections photograph. REUTERS/Georgia Department of Corrections/Handout

By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Georgia Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to stop the state's planned execution next week of a death row inmate whose lawyers say should not be put to death because he is mentally disabled. Warren Lee Hill, 54, is scheduled to die by injection on Jan. 27 for beating fellow prisoner Joseph Handspike to death in August 1990. At the time of the killing, Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright. Hill's attorneys argue that Georgia's strict standard of requiring inmates to prove their mental disability “beyond a reasonable doubt” is unconstitutional. They had asked for more time to appeal his case in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that threw out a Florida death row inmate's sentence and found that the state's IQ test standard for assessing whether defendants are mentally disabled was too rigid. Hill’s case “is worth a thorough and searching review without the time-pressure of an impending execution,” his lawyers wrote in their request for a stay. The Georgia Supreme Court denied the request without comment, with two justices dissenting. Hill has been granted several last-minute stays in recent years and his attorneys plan to keep up their fight. They will appeal Tuesday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, said one of his lawyers, Brian Kammer. In 2013, a judge halted his execution to allow Hill to challenge a new Georgia law that allowed the state to keep secret its source for lethal injection drugs. The Georgia Supreme Court last year upheld that law and said it should not prevent Hill from being executed. In Hill's current claim, his attorneys said mental disability is generally defined as having a score of 70 or below on intelligence tests. Hill scored 69 on one intelligence test and in the 70s on other examinations, according to court records. Hill's lawyers filed affidavits in a Georgia court in 2013 from three doctors, who found Hill competent 13 years ago but now believe he is mentally disabled. Georgia prosecutors argue the lethal injection should move forwarding because past examinations showed Hill has the capacity to understand his execution. After graduating from high school, Hill joined the U.S. Navy and was promoted to the rank of seaman second class, prosecutors said.