Court halts Warren Hill’s execution, voices concern about lethal injection drugs

For the third time, a court has blocked the state of Georgia from executing Warren Lee Hill, a man with severe disabilities whose treating doctors now unanimously agree is ineligible for the death penalty under the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision Atkins v. Virginia.

On July 14, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan stayed the execution, which was scheduled for 7 p.m. the following evening. After holding a hearing on July 18, the judge issued another stay, blocking Hill’s newly scheduled execution for the following day.

As a result, Hill will not be scheduled for capitol punishment anytime in the immediate future. Hill’s lawyers also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which placed Hill’s case on its conference docket for September, according to the Atlantic.

“Today, Georgia came too close to ignoring experts and crossing the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling protecting people with intellectual disability in our justice system,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, in a news release. “While we breathe a sigh of relief for now, this battle is far from over for Mr. Hill and many more people with disabilities who may be at risk of unjust punishment.”

Unlike the two previous situations where courts blocked a pending execution of Hill, this stay had nothing to do with Hill’s disability.

As reported by the Guardian, the state of Georgia acquired supplies of the sedative pentobarbital on July 12 to execute Hill.

The highly controversial drug has received widespread scrutiny in its application in the death penalty context in recent years, prompting an international boycott of the drug, led by the European Commission.

In March, Georgia passed a law shielding the identity of pharmacists who supplied the drugs used for capitol punishment. In her ruling blocking the execution, Judge Tusan stated that law, which just went into effect May 1, blocks Hill’s access to the court to mount an appeal on the grounds that the use of the drug violations the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Georgia is the only nation in the country requiring that defendant’s prove a man has a mental disability “beyond a reasonable doubt” for the purposes of making him ineligible for the death penalty under the Atkins decision.

Hill has been on death row since 1990, when he killed a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike. He was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend.