Georgia

Georgia

Georgia Judge Would Allow Execution of Intellectually Disabled Man, But Calls for Higher Court Review

A county judge in Georgia denied relief for Warren Hill, a death row inmate whose diagnosed intellectual disabilities have failed to meet the state's narrow standard for exemption from the death penalty. However, the judge encouraged the state Supreme Court to consider whether a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Hall v. Florida, should require Georgia to modify its standard. Chief Judge Thomas Wilson of Butts County said, "In light of the severity of the penalty in this case, this Court hopes that, in reviewing [Mr. Hill’s] application to appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court will fully consider any potential application of Hall v. Florida to [his] case." In Hall v. Florida, the Supreme Court directed Florida to broaden its interpretation of intellectual disability. Florida refused to spare an inmate whose IQ was just one point above their cutoff. Similarly, Georgia has the narrowest standard of proof for intellectual disability in the entire country, requiring defendants to prove their disability beyond a reasonable doubt. Brian Kammer, an attorney for Hill, said,"Mr. Hill should not be eligible for execution in a nation which does not execute persons with intellectual disability, and he would not be eligible for execution in any other jurisdiction in the nation."

NEW VOICES: An Anesthesiologist's Reflections on an Execution

Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist at Emory University, recently witnessed an execution in Georgia and wrote about the presence of two physicians during the lethal injection he observed. He quoted the Medical Practice Act describing the role of doctors as those "engaged in the diagnosis or treatment of disease, defects, or injuries of human beings." However, he noted, "Life is not a disease, defect, or injury. Nothing in the Medical Practice Act authorizes a physician to cure someone of his life." Dr. Zivot attributed the lack of oversight regarding the doctors' participation to Georgia's secrecy law, which shields the identity of all execution participants: "In Georgia, and in other states that have secrecy laws, medical boards are usurped and the state now authorizes what behavior constitutes acceptable medical practice. This cannot be permitted. If the state prevents the board from regulating certain doctors, public health can be undermined in secret. If the state has the power to immunize physicians from oversight of their peers and colleagues, they have a terrible power to pervert the delivery of healthcare for some bureaucrat's idea of the public good. It is a horrific precedent that can be abused, even with the best of intentions."

Georgia Grants Clemency Just Before Execution

On July 9, just one day before he was scheduled to be executed, Tommy Lee Waldrip was granted clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Waldrip will now serve a sentence of life without parole. Although the Board did not give a reason for its decision, one of the issues raised in the case was the disproportionality of Waldrip's sentence compared to that of his co-defendants. Three men were involved in the murder that sent Waldrip to death row, but the other two were given life sentences. One of those was Waldrip's son, who was directly involved in killing the victim. He has been eligible for parole since 1998. Waldrip is the ninth death row inmate to receive clemency in Georgia since 1976, and the 275th in the nation. This is the second clemency granted in the U.S. in 2014.

First Lethal Injections Since Botched Oklahoma Execution Veiled in Secrecy

Georgia and Missouri each carried out an execution on June 17 and 18 respectively, marking the first executions since the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on April 29. Georgia executed Marcus Wellons (l.) after challenges to the state's lethal injection secrecy law were denied. One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that allowed the execution wrote separately of the "disturbing circularity problem" in requiring Wellons to show that the planned method of execution would cause him unacceptable harm, but denying him the information to support such a claim: "How could he when the state has passed a law prohibiting him from learning about the compound it plans to use to execute him?" In Missouri, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit lifted a stay of execution that had been in place for John Winfield (r.) allowing his execution just after midnight on June 18. Winfield's execution had been stayed because correction officials had interfered with the clemency process by pressuring a prison employee who intended to testify in favor of clemency for Winfield. Missouri's lethal injection process was also challenged because of its failure to divulge the source of its drugs.

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection Secrecy

In a 5-2 ruling issued on May 19, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state's law that hides the source and the identity of the preparer of drugs and equipment used in executions. The court said, “We conclude that Georgia’s execution process is likely made more timely and orderly by the execution-participant confidentiality statute...." The ruling lifted the stay of execution that was in place for Warren Hill, whose lawyers challenged the law. In a dissent, Justice Robert Benham referenced the recent botched execution in Oklahoma, writing, “I fear this state is on a path that, at the very least, denies Hill and other death row inmates their rights to due process and, at the very worst, leads to the macabre results that occurred in Oklahoma." Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, said the decision, “effectively affords the State of Georgia carte blanche to alter their lethal injection protocol in any way it sees fit, and to conceal from the public and even the courts the identity and provenance of the chemicals it intends to use to carry out executions.” A similar secrecy law in Missouri is being challenged by five news organizations, who say the law violates the First Amendment.

BOOKS: "I Am Troy Davis"

I Am Troy Davis is a recent book by Jen Marlowe and Troy Davis' sister, Martina Davis-Correia, that tells the story of a possibly innocent man who was executed in Georgia in 2011. Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Savannah. Years later evidence casting doubts about his guilt emerged, including recantations from several of the witnesses who had testified against him. Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, and 51 members of Congress petitioned for his clemency. Regarding the book, actress Susan Sarandon said, "I Am Troy Davis is a painful yet very important book, one that will bring you face to face with the human impact of the death penalty system, prompt you to think deeply about the flaws in our criminal justice system, and inspire you to stand with all those who have been wrongfully placed on death row." Kirkus Reviews called the book, "Poignant and humane... a powerful narrative that challenges the notion that 'the taking of one life can be answered by the taking of another.'"

REPRESENTATION: Georgia Inmate With Drunk Lawyer Facing Execution

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will soon consider the clemency petition of Robert Holsey describing a near complete failure in the judicial process that sent him to death row in 1997. As Marc Bookman described in the latest edition of Mother Jones, Holsey was assigned a lawyer, Andy Prince, who consumed a quart of vodka every night of the trial. While preparing Holsey's case, he was arrested in an incident after pointing a gun at a black neighbor and using a racial slur. Despite charges of assault, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness stemming from the racially-charged crime, he was allowed to stay on as defense attorney for a black defendant facing charges of murdering a white police officer. Prince failed to communicate with his co-counsel, Brenda Trammell, who had never tried a capital case, leaving her to perform a complex cross-examination with little time to prepare. She also gave the case's closing argument after almost no notice. Prince failed to present mitigating evidence regarding Holsey's intellectual disabilities and the severe abuse he suffered as a child. A juror from Holsey's trial later said in an affidavit that he would have spared Holsey's life had he heard such evidence. However, state and federal appeals courts have held that, even without the failings of the defense team, the outcome would probably have been the same.

Furman v. Georgia Reenactment Raises Questions of Arbitrariness

The Georgia State Bar's constitutional symposium recently staged a reenactment of Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court case that led to the temporary suspension of the death penalty in 1972. Stephen Bright (pictured), president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, played the role of Anthony Amsterdam, who argued on behalf of death row inmates in two of the four cases that the Court decided in Furman. The roles of the justices were performed by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Herbert Phipps and Judge Beverly Martin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Bright argued that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it was applied rarely and randomly. The judges asked about many of the details of Furman's trial, noting that the entire trial took just six hours, and that blacks and Jews were excluded from the jury. The judges in the reenactment did not offer their opinions on the case, but the real Furman v. Georgia resulted in a 5-4 decision to suspend the death penalty, with some in the majority saying it was imposed arbitrarily and others saying the death penalty was unconstitutional in all cases.

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