Georgia death row inmate Warren Lee Hill was granted a stay of execution 30 minutes before his scheduled death Tuesday night so the court could consider claims that Hill is mentally handicapped, reported CNN.
The New York Daily News reported that the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the execution as Hill was being prepared for lethal injection.
The court, in a 2-1 decision, said they needed more time to review affidavits by three doctors who changed their minds after originally claiming Hill was not mentally disabled back in 2000.
"In other words, all of the experts — both the State’s and the petitioner’s — now appear to be in agreement that Hill is in fact mentally retarded," the majority decision said.
A 2002 court decision bans the execution of the mentally retarded but leaves it up to the states to decide who qualifies. Georgia law makes it very difficult for a consensus on who meets the qualifications of mentally handicapped.
It requires inmates to prove mental impairment "beyond a reasonable doubt", which Hill's lawyers call "a virtually insurmountable barrier", reports CNN.
"The US. Supreme Court says we don't put mentally retarded people to death, but we'll let the states determine who's retarded and who's not," CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said Monday.
Hill lost three earlier chances at a stay of execution earlier on Tuesday. The US Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court both denied requests while the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles similarly denied a request for clemency.