Georgia’s planned method for executing inmates is invalid, a lawyer argued Monday, because the state did not follow the law before switching to a single lethal-injection drug,
Lisa Heller, a lawyer for condemned inmate Warren Hill, told the Georgia Supreme Court that the Department of Corrections change was subject to the state Administrative Procedure Act, which requires a period for public comment.
A lawyer for the state contended this was unnecessary. Changing the lethal-injection protocol is merely a standard operating procedure that can be changed by the Corrections commissioner. It is not a “rule” as defined by the Administrative Procedure Act, Joe Drolet, a lawyer for the state Attorney General’s Office, said.
On July 23, just two hours before Hill was to be put to death, the state Supreme Court halted the execution to give the court time to decide whether the Department of Corrections violated state law.
A week earlier, the agency had delayed Hill’s execution to give it time to switch from three lethal-injection drugs to one, pentobarbital. One of the drugs the state had been using in lethal injections — the paralytic pancuronium bromide — had expired two weeks before Hill’s initially scheduled execution, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Open Records Act.
Hill sits on death row for killing fellow inmate Joseph Handspike in 1990 when Hill was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. Hill’s capital case attracted national attention because two judges hearing his appeals had found him more likely than not to be mentally disabled. But appeals courts declined to overturn the death sentence, saying Hill had failed to prove he was mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt, and thus ineligible for execution.
On Monday, Drolet said the implications of the court ruling that Corrections must follow the Administrative Procedure Act will be more delays caused by additional litigation that challenges the new lethal-injection procedure.
Justice David Nahmias, after peppering Drolet with questions as to whether the act applies to the lethal-injection protocol, asked Heller about that.
If the court rules in Hill’s favor involving the new protocol, Nahmias said, “you’ll be challenging it to death, right? You’ll challenge and challenge as much as you can.”
Heller said the Administrative Procedure Act only allows for a 30-day comment period and, if enough requests are made, a hearing. “So it’s just a 31-day delay we’re talking about,” she said. Other delays would occur only if Corrections changes its lethal-injection protocol again, she added.