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AG Eric Holder: Moratorium On Death Penalty ‘Would Be Appropriate’

Speaking Tuesday evening to the National Press Club, Attorney General Eric Holder said he supports a moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court issues a ruling later this year on the Oklahoma lethal injection case currently before the justices:

“I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked. And among them, the Supreme Court’s determination as to whether or not lethal injection is consistent with our Constitution is one that ought to occur. From my perspective, I think a moratorium until the Supreme Court made that determination would be appropriate.”

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a case filed by inmates on Oklahoma’s death row. In their lawsuit, the inmates allege lethal injection violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The case was filed following the horrific execution of Clayton Lockett. It took a three-drug intravenous cocktail 43 minutes to kill Lockett.

Holder also said that he believes the best reason to eliminate the death penalty is the possibility of executing an innocent person:

“Our system of justice is the best in the world. It is comprised of men and women who do the best they can, get it right more often than not, substantially more right than wrong. There’s always the possibility that mistakes will be made… It’s for that reason that I am opposed to the death penalty.”

The Attorney General stressed that he was speaking of his personal feelings about capital punishment and was not reflecting the positions of the Obama Administration.

In the past, Holder has remarked that the recent history of administering the death penalty is one of the main reasons he opposes it. As he told an audience at The Marshall Project just last year:

“I think that the issue is made real when you look at some of the things that have happened in the states over the last year or so, where you had these botched executions, where you had an inability to get the appropriate drug. We’ve had doctors unwilling to participate in the process. I think this is pushing this country toward some really fundamental questions about — even though, you know, people still support the death penalty by 55 percent, or whatever the number is — some fundamental questions about continued use of the death penalty.”

While Holder’s comments are certainly encouraging to those of us who oppose capital punishment, we will have to wait a little longer to discover if the Supreme Court agrees.

This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org

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Georgia Executes Intellectually Disabled Man

Just after 7:30p.m. last night, the state of Georgia executed Warren Lee Hill, 54, by lethal injection. If that’s all there was to the story, it would probably be easy to overlook.

But Warren Hill was declared “intellectually disabled” by every doctor who examined him, including by three expert witnesses who testified for the state at Hill’s capital punishment trial. Prior to last night’s execution, Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, said:

“Mr. Hill’s disability means that he has the emotional and cognitive functioning of an 11-year-old boy.”

Yet despite Georgia law and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court which prohibit the killing of the intellectually disabled, the Supreme Court refused to hear a petition for a last minute stay of execution. Earlier in the day, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles also declined Hill’s request for clemency. The Board did so with no explanation of its reasoning.

Hill was originally sentenced to life imprisonment in 1986 for the killing of his 18-year-old girlfriend, who was shot 11 times. While incarcerated and serving that sentence, Hill beat a fellow inmate to death with a nail-studded board. He was sentenced to death in 1991 for that crime.

Following Hill’s execution, Brian Kammer, Hill’s lawyer,  issued the following statement:

“Today, the Court has unconscionably allowed a grotesque miscarriage of justice to occur in Georgia. Georgia has been allowed to execute an unquestionably intellectually disabled man, Warren Hill, in direct contravention of the Court’s clear precedent prohibiting such cruelty.”

Only days before Hill was originally scheduled to be executed in 2013, his attorneys obtained a stay when they presented statements from three doctors who examined Hill in 2000 and declared him to not be intellectually disabled. The doctors said they had been rushed at the time of their original diagnosis and had since decided Hill met the legal standard to be spared the death penalty.

But Georgia has what legal experts consider to be the toughest standard in the nation for proving intellectual disability. It requires that capital punishment defendants prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are intellectually disabled in order to avoid being executed. The state has repeatedly maintained that Hill’s lawyers failed to meet that burden of proof.

And so, in Georgia, the state of my birth, the state where I live, once again blood has been shed in the name of a form of justice most civilized nations have abandoned.

This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org