ATLANTA, GA (PR) - Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Warren Lee Hill, who is currently scheduled to be executed on Jan. 27, 2015 for the murder of Joseph Handspike.
On Jan. 16, 2015, 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, Jan. 27, 2015, and ending seven days later at noon on Feb. 3, 2015. 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, Ga. on January 22, 1991, for the offenses of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. On July 31, 1991, a jury convicted Hill as charged in the indictment. The jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was returned on Aug. 2, 1991. Thereafter, Hill filed a motion for new trial, which was denied 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). The United States Supreme Court denied Hill’s request to appeal on Nov. 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, Ga. on April 14, 1994. In these proceedings, Hill alleged for the first time that he was intellectually disabled. Prior to these proceedings, although receiving various IQ tests and scores, Hill had never scored in the intellectually disabled 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 intellectual disability. 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 intellectual disability 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 Dec. 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 intellectual disability and denied Petitioner’s request for relief. On Sept. 16, 2002, the state habeas court entered a supplemental order denying the remainder of Petitioner’s state habeas claims. However, on Oct. 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 intellectual disability.
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 intellectual disability 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 Oct. 5, 2004. On Nov. 7, 2007, the district court denied Hill federal habeas corpus relief.
11th Circuit Court of Appeals (2009-2011)
Hill's case was appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. The case was orally argued before the 11th Circuit on June 2, 2009. On June 18, 2010, a panel of the 11th Circuit reversed the district court. Hill v. Schofield, 608 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. 2010). The State requested rehearing en banc. On Nov. 9, 2010, the 11th Circuit vacated the panel opinion and granted rehearing. Hill v. Schofield, 625 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2010). Thereafter, the 11th Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief on Nov. 22, 2011. Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 2011).
United States Supreme Court (2012)
Hill requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which was denied June 4, 2012. Hill v. Humphrey, 132 S.Ct. 2727 (2012).
Previously Scheduled Executions
Hill’s first scheduled execution was set for July 23, 2012. On July 16, 2012, the Board of Pardons and Paroles denied commutation of Hill’s death sentence. Thereafter, Hill’s execution was stayed by the Georgia Supreme Court and an appeal was granted on his challenge regarding whether the Department of Corrections was subjected to the Administrative Procedure Act (hereinafter “APA”) when making changes to lethal injection protocols. On Feb. 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. Hill v. Owens, 292 Ga. 380 (2013).
Hill’s second scheduled execution was set for Feb. 19, 2013. The 11th Circuit granted a stay of execution and directed the parties to specifically address whether Hill could meet the requirements to file a second federal habeas petition.
On April 22, 2013, the 11th Circuit denied Hill’s application for permission to file second petition for writ of habeas corpus and vacated the stay of execution. In re: Warren Lee Hill, 715 F.3d 284 (11th Cir. 2013). Hill requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which was denied Oct. 7, 2013. In re: Hill, 134 S. Ct. 118 (2013).
Hill’s third scheduled execution was set for July 15, 2013. Hill received a stay of execution from the Superior Court of Fulton County after filing a challenge regarding the constitutionality of Georgia’s statute making the source of the lethal injection drugs a confidential state secret. On May 19, 2014, the Georgia Supreme Court held that O.C.G.A. § 42-5-36(d) was constitutional. Owens v. Hill, 295 Ga. 302 (2014). Hill requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which was denied Nov. 3, 2014. Hill v. Owens, 135 S. Ct. 449 (2014).