The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal of a recent order that halted the execution of condemned killer Warren Hill.
Last month, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan granted Hill a stay, saying a new state law that keeps secret the identities of those who make and supply Georgia’s lethal injection drugs is likely unconstitutional.
The law, which took effect July 1, denies death row inmates meaningful access to the courts, violates the separation of powers and forecloses the public’s right to know how the state carries out executions, Tusan said.
Hill, 53, sits on death row for beating another inmate, Joseph Handspike, to death with a nail-studded board in 1990 at the state prison in Leesburg. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence for the 1986 fatal shooting of his former girlfriend.
State attorneys have argued the new secrecy law is necessary because it has become increasingly difficult to obtain lethal-injection drugs from manufacturers who face pressure from death-penalty opponents and shareholders. For Hill’s execution last month, the Department of Corrections turned to an unidentified compounding pharmacy for doses of the powerful sedative pentobarbital. But that supply has now expired, according to court filings.
Hill’s lawyers contend their client is mentally retarded and ineligible for execution. They cite affidavits signed by former state experts who initially testified Hill was not mentally disabled but who now say he is. Tusan’s order did not address this issue, only the constitutionality of the new secrecy law.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court asked lawyers to address whether the issue in Hill’s case is now moot because the state’s supply of pentobarbital expired and it’s unclear how Corrections will obtain new lethal-injection drugs. The court also said it wanted to know whether Tusan had the authority to issue the stay of execution and whether she could have issued one based on the challenge to the new state secrecy law.
Finally, the court said, could the question as to whether the new law is constitutional be avoided if Hill’s lawyers were given a sample of the drug for testing or given other information the law does not prohibit.
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