There is nothing pretty about Warren Hill's crimes, either. He was already in prison, for murdering his girlfriend, when in 1990 he murdered a fellow state prisoner with a board studded with nails. Tested at the time for mental retardation, and viewed as a borderline case, HIll was quickly convicted and sentenced to death in 1991. Three years later, his attorneys filed a petition arguing that Hill was mentally retarded. At the time, long before the Supreme Court moved in Atkins, Georgia had statutorily outlawed, in certain circumstances anyway, the execution of mentally retarded defendants.
An extensive evidentiary hearing was held. Even the state agreed that Hill met the "IQ criterion for the diagnosis of mental retardation." Where the parties diverged, however, was on the issue of whether Hill's cognitive failings were accompanied by what law and science call "impairments in adaptive functioning." While in prison, between the age of 28 and 33, Hill had tested at a "grade level of approximately 6-7" and showed signs, with an IQ of 73, of mild mental retardation. Here is how Hill's attorneys once described his childhood:
Mr. Hill has suffered from neurological impairment since birth, manifested in a vulnerability to seizures and in mental retardation. During his school years, his teachers and fellow students regarded him as the slowest student in class. Because there were no special education programs available in the segregated schools attended by Mr. Hill, his teachers opted for 'social promotion,' an informal but then-common practice of moving students on to higher grades in spite of their inability to master age-appropriate work.
Mr. Hill's intellectual deficits caused or were accompanied by significant deficiencies in adaptive skills which are essential to successful independent life functioning. The adaptive functioning areas at issue are the following: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, health & safety, functional academics, leisure and work.
That language came straight from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But the court noted instead that Hill had exhibited a "consistent work ethic" and had "managed well enough, in a 'functionally academic manner' to handle financial transactions ... while simultaneously sending monies to his family and contemporaneously maintaining his personal needs." Hill even passed a military entrance exam. The court ruled that while Hill was demonstrably retarded, he had nonetheless not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he was retarded enough to avoid execution.
TEXAS JUSTICE: The Fifth Circuit
In Martinez, in March, the Supreme Court declared
by a 7-2 vote that defendants were entitled to have federal courts review
their "ineffective assistance of counsel" claims even if those claims were
otherwise procedurally barred, if the reason the claims were barred was the ineffectiveness of the lawyers litigating the first round of
post-conviction habeas review. Prisoners had a right to effective
counsel beyond trial and direct appeal; in other words, a scenario that seems to fit
the Hearn case on point. So, back in Texas, emboldened by the Martinez opinion, Hearn's attorneys filed a new request to have a court look at the "mitigating" evidence they had uncovered about their client's life history, including his long history of mental impairment.