Breaking News: State experts change opinions in Warren Hill's case

posted Feb 14, 2013, 10:44 AM by Kathryn Hamoudah

By Bill Rankin

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Three experts used by the state to prove condemned killer Warren Hill was not mentally disabled — and thus ineligible for execution — now say they were in error, according to sworn affidavits released Thursday.

The revelations were disclosed shortly before Hill’s scheduled execution on Tuesday by lethal injection. His lawyers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution and say they will soon ask the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider Hill’s request for clemency.

“There is now consensus among all experts that Mr. Hill is mentally retarded,” said Brian Kammer, one of Hill’s attorneys. “The prospect of his execution under such circumstances should shock the conscience.”

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said her office had no immediate comment. She said the office’s lawyers will respond to Hill’s new claims when he files a petition in court.

Hill sits on death row for fatally bludgeoning a fellow inmate with a wooden board. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence at a southwest Georgia prison for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend.

The former state experts, two psychiatrists and a psychologist, describe their evaluations of Hill in late 2000 as rush jobs. They also said they did not have all the information they needed to make a proper diagnosis.

The doctors’ affidavits say that the scientific understanding of mental retardation has grown over the past dozen years, giving them better insights into evaluating a person such as Hill, who they initially believed was faking his mental disabilities.

Hill’s case has already attracted national attention because two state court judges previously found that Hill was mentally retarded. But they said Hill could only prove it by a preponderance of the evidence — or that he was more likely than not mentally retarded.

That’s not strong enough proof in Georgia, which is the only state in the country that requires capital defendants to clear a the most difficult legal threshold — proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded.

The key hearing to determine whether Hill was mentally retarded occurred in December 2000, when the state called on its three experts to refute Hill’s claims. They all testified that they believed Hill did not meet the criteria for mental retardation.

But Thomas Sachy, a forensic psychiatrist who worked part-time at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and who evaluated Hill for one hour in 2000, said he contacted Hill’s attorneys last July after reading media reports about the case. Concerned his initial conclusions were unreliable, he said he wanted to take another look at his original notes and reports as well as other evidence from the voluminous court record.

Sachy noted he did not have experience in 2000 evaluating patients for mental retardation but has since treated many patients who were mentally retarded.

“I do not believe now that Mr. Hill was deliberately feigning a cognitive disorder in 2000, and I believe that his responses to my questions were consistent with mild mental retardation,” Sachy said.

Sachy said he believes, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that Hill meets the criteria because Hill had “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, associated with significant deficits in adaptive functioning, with the onset before the age of 18.”

James Gary Carter, the former Clinical Director of Forensic Services at Central State Hospital, and Donald W. Harris, once a licensed psychologist at the hospital, also say they were in error when they testified Hill was not mentally retarded, according to their affidavits.