Warren Hill is not a nice person. I would not want him living in my neighborhood. He is not in prison for one of the drug convictions that take too many, especially men of color living in poverty, from their communities. He is there because he has shown a callous willingness to kill other human beings. He murdered two brutally, his girlfriend with eleven gunshots, his cellmate with a nail-studded board. No one wants his presence in society. However, he does not deserve to die.
I read about his life. He grew up poor. He was abused. At least one parent’s ability to raise him was limited by substance abuse and dependence. His family failed him. It was obvious to his teachers that he could not understand the material for his grade level. He learned slower, more laboriously, than his schoolmates. However, I saw no indication that he got so much as tutoring to maximize his academic potential and options in life. He was born too early for special education. The schools failed him.
As an adult, Hill was in the military. They took a man with less cognitive ability than average who was raised with few examples of nonviolent interpersonal relationships and taught him violence. Military training does not a murderer make. Even combat veterans generally do not generally hurt civilians. However, it does make one better at any violence one chooses to perform by definition. The recruiter who likely came to know Hill’s limitations and something of his history but did not turn him away failed him. So did his commanding officers. He seems to have served in the Navy during peacetime. It would have been no great loss to the armed forces to let one man out when it became apparent he should not have been there.
In prison, he was not protected. According to a Guardian article, he lived in a dormitory. While the authorities did not recognize his vulnerability, other inmates did. Physically and sexually, he was mistreated as too many prisoners are. He may well have been lashing out at an abuser when he got his death sentence.
People with intellectual disabilities have moral culpability. They must be given the dignity of responsibility for their actions. Hill’s wrongdoing is ultimately on his own conscience, but society should recognize that its every institution failed him. Murder is wrong, but Hill was set up for a bad end. Then, his disability put him at a disadvantage in the courts. From birth, the people partly or wholly responsible to him and for his well-being did not help him. The arc of his life might have been diverted from this wretched course. No one stepped up.
Warren Hill is a murderer. He should be punished. Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is punishment enough. That would protect society from him, penalize him for monstrous acts, recognize that some small share of fault falls on innumerable others, and preserve his chance to reform. That would be justice. Given safe space within a prison, a useful task to perform, a bit of compassion, and perhaps whatever educational materials he can understand, he could become better than he is. It is a long shot, but society also has a debt to pay him. We should take into account that he never received his birthright. Every unwritten promise of the social contract went unfulfilled in his life.
I am especially leery of executing Warren Hill because I see intentionality in this. I suspect someone might have recognized his disability sooner if not for certain racial stereotypes of intelligence. I know poverty destroyed what little chance he had of getting help as a child in the 1960s. His socioeconomic status worked against him in the courts. I wonder if he would have received the death penalty if, all else equal, he had been white. It is possible, but, if we could make a bet and peer into a parallel universe for the answer, my money would be on ‘no.’ My gut says he would be serving a life sentence if he did not call up a specter, a caricature of black, male violence that has long haunted the South.
These are not the only reasons his life should be spared. Apart from the injustice of the situation, Georgia should not flout the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has not take the case, but they have already ruled the execution of people with intellectual disabilities unconstitutional. Whatever one’s opinion of the death penalty, there is nothing acceptable about this. It is immoral, illegal, and embarrassing. At favorite haunts in Boone, North Carolina this weekend, I may hide the car off the main drag. I would rather pretend to be from somewhere else than be seen with Georgia plates. If the Supreme Court does not intervene, if Governor Deal is silent, my adopted home will sink to a level of barbarism that will appall decent people the world over this coming Monday. It has already cropped up in foreign media. Georgia’s idea of justice is depriving a man who has hardly had anything of all he has left: his future, the opportunity to improve. Now, everyone knows.
You should have. I have been harassing you about it for over a day. Here is information:
Here is the petition again:
If you have not signed it, please do so now. His hearing is in fifteen hours and twenty minutes. If you can, contact the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles at this number:
Or this email address:
Thank you for your time.
The Twitter hashtag for this debacle is #HelpWarren. Sign this petition for the Board of Pardons and Paroles.