Execution Date Set for Warren Lee Hill, Convicted of Murder of Fellow Prison Inmate
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Warren Lee Hill, who is currently scheduled to be executed on February 19, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
On February 5, 2013, the Superior Court of Lee County filed an order, setting the seven-day window in which the execution of Warren Lee Hill may occur to begin at noon, February 19, 2013, and ending seven days later at noon on February 26, 2013. Hill has concluded his direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings.
Hill’s Crime (1990)
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 11 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.
Inmates who witnessed the attack testified that Hill's attack on the victim looked similar to someone “…chopping wood with an axe” and during the attack, saying, “You ain't bad,” or “You ain't bad now.”
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 and assaultive 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.
The Trial (1991-1992)
Hill was indicted in the Superior Court of Lee County, Georgia on January 22, 1991, for the offenses of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. On July 31, 1991, following a jury trial, Hill was convicted as charged in the indictment. The jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was returned on August 2, 1991.
Hill filed a motion for new trial on September 17, 1991, and amendments thereto on December 17, 1991, February 5, 1992 and March 11, 1992. This motion, as amended, was denied by the trial court on June 5, 1992.
The Direct Appeal (1993)
The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Hill’s conviction and death sentence on March 15, 1993. Hill v. State, 263 Ga. 37, 427 S.E.2d 770 (1993). Hill filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on November 1, 1993. Hill v. Georgia, 510 U.S. 950 (1993).
State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1994-2003)
Hill, represented by the Georgia Resource Center, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on April 14, 1994. Hill filed amendments thereto on September 26, 1996 and December 13, 1996. In those proceedings, Hill alleged for the first time that he was mentally retarded. Prior to these hearings, although receiving various IQ tests and scores, Hill had never scored in the mentally retarded range. On May 21, 1997, the state habeas corpus court utilized a non-statutory standard in granting a limited writ of habeas corpus for the purpose of conducting a jury trial on Hill’s allegation of mental retardation. The State appealed this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court remanded the case to the state habeas court with the directive that the state habeas court determine whether Hill had established his claim of mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. Turpin v. Hill, 269 Ga. 302, 304(4) (1998).
Following the remand, the state habeas corpus court conducted an evidentiary hearing on December 12-14, 2000. On May 13, 2002, the state habeas court entered an order finding that Petitioner had failed to establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” his claim of mental retardation and denied Petitioner’s request for relief. On September 16, 2002, the state habeas court entered a supplemental order denying the remainder of Petitioner’s state habeas claims. However, on October 1, 2002, Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the state habeas court’s May 13, 2002, Order. Thereafter, the state habeas court vacated its May 2002 Order and adopted Petitioner’s proposed order again finding that, under a non-statutory standard, Petitioner had met his burden of proof to establish his claim of mental retardation.
The State appealed this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court held that, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the beyond a reasonable doubt standard continued to be an acceptable standard of proof to apply to mental retardation claims. Head v. Hill, 277 Ga. 255, 260-262 (2003). The Georgia Supreme Court “vacat[ed] the habeas court’s order granting the motion for reconsideration of Hill’s mental retardation claim and remand[ed] the case again for re-entry of an order” utilizing the proper standard of review. Head v. Hill, 277 Ga. at 263 (2003). Thereafter, the state habeas court vacated its order based on the motion for reconsideration stating that its prior orders of May 13, 2002 and September 16, 2002, constituted the final orders of the court. Hill did not appeal the state habeas court’s final orders to the United States Supreme Court.
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2004-2008)
Hill, represented by the Georgia Resource Center, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on October 5, 2004. On November 7, 2007, the district court denied Hill federal habeas corpus relief. The district court denied a motion to alter and amend judgment on August 22, 2008. The district court granted Hill a certificate of appealability on October 21, 2008.
11th Circuit Court of Appeals (2009-2011)
The case was orally argued before the Eleventh Circuit on June 2, 2009. On June 18, 2010, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court. Hill v. Schofield, 608 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. 2010). The State requested rehearing en banc. On November 9, 2010, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the panel opinion and granted rehearing. Hill v. Schofield, 625 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2010). Thereafter, the Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief on November 22, 2011. Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 2011).
United States Supreme Court (2012)
Hill filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied June 4, 2012. Hill v. Humphrey, 2012 U.S. LEXIS 4252 (2012).
New Execution Date Set (July 23, 2012)
On July 3, 2012, Judge George M. Peagler, Jr. of the Superior Court of Lee County filed an order setting the execution of Warren Lee Hill for July 23, 2012. On July 16, 2012, the Board of Pardons and Paroles denied commutation of Hill’s death sentence. On July 20, 2012, Hill filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, mandamus and injunctive relief claiming that the Department of Corrections’ lethal injection protocol is a “rule” requiring certain procedural processes under the Administrative Procedure Act (hereinafter referred to as the APA). Hill also filed a Motion for Stay of Execution. A hearing on the motions was held July 23, 2012, and the trial court subsequently entered an order dismissing the appeal and denying the motion for stay.
On July 23, 2012, Hill filed an application for discretionary appeal and a motion for stay of execution in the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court granted both his application for discretionary appeal and motion for stay of execution that same day. On February 4, 2013, following briefing and oral argument, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Department of Corrections was not subject to the APA when making changes to lethal injection protocols.