The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

October 21, 2013

Ga. to review tough death penalty provision

(Continued)

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.

“Even where evidence is otherwise seemingly overwhelming that a person has mental retardation, one dissenting opinion that splits a hair on one or more pieces of evidence can result in that person who’s almost certainly mentally retarded being executed,” Kammer said.

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.

Additionally, three state experts who testified in 2000 that Hill was not mentally disabled submitted sworn statements in February saying they had been rushed in their evaluation at the time. After further review and based on scientific developments since then, they now believe Hill is mentally disabled, they said.

The state has dismissed the doctors’ new testimony, saying it isn’t credible. And courts have ruled that Hill is procedurally barred from having a new hearing. His lawyers had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case based on the new evidence, but the high court this month declined to take it up. Hill has a challenge on different grounds pending before the Georgia Supreme Court. But he has exhausted his challenges on the mental disability issue, Kammer said.

Even if changes are made to Georgia’s law, they will likely not be retroactive and wouldn’t apply to Hill, Keeley said.

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