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Execution of 'mentally retarded' US inmate postponed

This Georgia Department of Corrections image recieved July 23, 2012 shows death row inmate Warren Hill
This Georgia Department of Corrections image recieved July 23, 2012 shows death row inmate Warren Hill. His execution was postponed Monday just hours before it was set to take place at a Georgia prison.

The execution of a US inmate diagnosed as "mentally retarded" was postponed Monday, just hours before it was set to take place at a Georgia prison.

A lawyer for Warren Hill confirmed the "stay of execution" had been put in place until Thursday, explaining the delay was related to a defense complaint over what it calls the "extreme secrecy surrounding the execution."

Meanwhile, the defense team is pursuing a last-ditch motion filed directly to the Supreme Court last week.

Hill, 52, was already serving life in prison for the murder of his girlfriend when he bludgeoned a fellow prisoner to death in 1990. He was subsequently sentenced to death.

In 2000, three doctors ruled that Hill did not meet Georgia's criteria -- regarded as the toughest in the United States -- to be classified as mentally disabled.

However, those three doctors have since revised their assessments and unanimously agree that Hill, who has an IQ of 70, is a person with mental retardation.

Normally that would be enough to prevent authorities from executing Hill. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling barred the execution of people suffering from mental impairment.

However, Hill's lawyers say they have been "procedurally barred" from raising his case in lower courts under a federal law designed to prevent prisoners from filing multiple appeals.

Hill had successfully received a stay of execution in July last year after appealing on the grounds of changes to Georgia's death penalty protocol.

His lawyers' only avenue of appeal now is via the Supreme Court.

"All experts who have evaluated Warren Hill agree: he is mentally retarded," Hill's attorney Brian Kammer said in a statement.

"Mr Hill's execution would therefore be a grotesque miscarriage of justice and render the Eighth Amendment a mere paper tiger.

"This case presents the extraordinary circumstance where an individual who is ineligible for a capital sentence is about to be executed.

"Mr Hill has no recourse left but to beg the court to intervene, and we trust and hope that the Supreme Court will hear his plea."

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