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Bishop Wright asks pardons board to spare inmate's life

By Don Plummer

Bishop Rob Wright took a public stand against executions by sending a letter to the chair and members of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to spare the life of intellectually disabled death-row inmate Warren Lee Hill scheduled to be executed Tuesday, Jan. 27.

The parole board denied Mr. Hill's appeal that they change his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Vigils protesting the execution drew dozens of people to each of the 12 sites statewide. Bishop Wright, who was in Boston for a course at the Kennedy School for Leadership, phoned protestors outside Georgia's death row to pray with them.

As Mr. Hill was being executed Tuesday evening, Bishop Wright sent the following message on Facebook: "The state of Georgia is at this moment killing a mentally disabled man by shooting his body full of poison while people watch. This is the second time this has happened this month. They say this brings closure."

January 23
Bishop Rob Wright today sent a letter to the chair and members of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to spare the life of an intellectually disabled death-row inmate. Warren Lee Hill is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Hill (left), whose intellectual disability has been twice confirmed by lower courts, had his final appeal to the State Supreme Court denied Jan. 20. The Board of pardons and Paroles, which meets Monday, Jan. 26, provides Hill with a last opportunity for avoiding the death penalty unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

In his letter Wright made a biblical argument against executing Hill. “While many people support capital punishment, Holy Scripture clearly shows Jesus never taught that we should murder a human being, no matter how heinous the crime.”  

He told the board that he was greatly encouraged in July 2014 when they commuted the death sentence to life without parole in the case of Tommy Lee Waldrip.

“Your decision was a victory for morality and human dignity and I praise you for your action. Today I urge you to again take the courageous path and spare the life of Mr. Hill,” he said.

Since 1984, Georgia has executed 56 people, an average of two per year. However, in the past year Georgia has increased the frequency of executions with six scheduled executions. 

Since 1954, The Episcopal Church has called repeatedly for an end to executions. Bishop Wright said in a letter to more than 200 clergy in his diocese that he hopes they will express concern to state officials -- and physically witness their opposition to the death penalty. “As we all know, capital punishment can never bring an end to killing,” he said.

This is not the first time Bishop Wright has called for an end to Georgia executions. In December, he wrote a letter to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal urging a halt to the practice. At that time Robert Wayne Holsey was facing execution. Holsey was executed Dec. 9 for the murder of Baldwin County sheriff’s deputy Will Robinson.

On Jan. 13 the state also executed Andrew Howard Brannan, a decorated war veteran who suffered from PTSD according to court records. Brannan was put to death for the 1998 murder of 22-year-old Laurens County Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Wayne Dinkheller.

Georgia is the only state to require evidence of intellectual disability to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. All other states use a less-strict standard of proof.

In a New York Times editorial published Jan. 23, the editors said “Mr. Hill’s case is a catalog of everything that is wrong with the death penalty.” 

Vigils protesting the death penalty are planned for outside Georgia’s death-row prison and in Atlanta and 10 other locations throughout Georgia, according to Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty website.

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