Executions Scheduled for July 18 in Texas and Georgia Present Serious Mental Health Issues

Yokamon Hearn (pictured) is facing execution in Texas on July 18 despite clear evidence of brain damage since his early childhood. Hearn’s trial attorneys failed to conduct an adequate investigation into Hearn’s early history, which would have uncovered mitigating evidence that he was neglected by his parents and had a history of mental health problems. His mother’s alcoholism was so severe that she drank to the point of passing out during her pregnancy with Mr. Hearn. He has been diagnosed with a disabling condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Hearn’s current attorneys said there is a strong likelihood that one or more jurors would have reached a different sentencing conclusion had they been presented this important mitigating evidence. Further interfering with an adequate review of Hearn’s case is Texas’s resistance to apply a recent Supreme Court decision regarding inadequate representation at both trial and appeal. UPDATE: Hearn was executed on July 18.

In Georgia, the State Board of Pardons and Parole denied Warren Hill’s request to commute his death sentence on July 16. He, too, is scheduled to die on July 18. UPDATE: Execution date changed to July 23, as state changes to a single-drug execution protocol. A recent article in The Atlantic noted the common thread in Hearn’s and Hill’s cases. While in prison between the age of 28 and 33, Warren Hill tested at a grade level of approximately 6-7, and had an IQ within the range of mental retardation. Mr. Hill’s attorneys 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.” Although a state judge agreed that Hill met the criteria for the diagnosis of mental retardation, the Georgia Supreme Court later said Hill failed to prove his intellectual disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” See Hill’s Motion for a Stay of Execution filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on July 16.

(A. Cohen, “A Day in the Life of the Death Penalty: July 18, 2012,” The Atlantic, July 11, 2012). See Intellectual Disability and Mental Illness. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Mental Illness.