Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan granted a stay of execution Thursday afternoon for death row inmate Warren Lee Hill. Hill’s attorneys asked the court to review a new state law that allows Georgia to keep secret the names of medical professionals and pharmacies involved in providing the state with pentobarbital, a lethal injection drug.
Attorney Brian Kammer has been representing Hill for almost 17 years. He argued the new law could violate Hill’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment because it restricted Hill’s right to research any potential side effects of the pentobarbital. Kammer questioned the safety of the drug because it was purchased from a compounding pharmacy
“It’s not even necessarily about pentobarbital,” Kammer said after the hearing. “Where are the ingredients coming from? Who is compounding the drug? All we know is it’s a compounding pharmacy out of state. That does not inspire confidence.”
Judge Tusan decided that argument had merit.
“Here in the court’s mind neither the plaintiff nor the general public has sufficient information with which to measure the safety of the drug that would be used to execute Mr. Hill as there is insufficient information regarding how it was compounded,” Tusan read to the court from her ruling.
The state, however, argued the lethal dosage administered is so high and so effective, that even if it contained a contaminant, Hill would pass away before feeling any negative effects.
“No matter how pentobarbital is compounded, even if it did have a contamination it in, even if the pH was off, no matter how it’s compounded, there would be no physical harm to Mr. Hill,” said Sabrina Graham, Senior Assistant Attorney General.
Graham also argued that the state has an interest in keeping the names of pharmacies and doctors confidential to prevent anti-death penalty activists from targeting those individuals.
But Tusan said the potential harm to Hill was greater than the potential harm a delay of Hill’s execution could cause the state.
“I think it was a very thorough, well-written, well-thought out order and I hope that the Georgia Supreme Court affirms it,” Kammer said of Tusan’s decision. “I think they should.”
The state plans to appeal to the Supreme Court as early as Friday. Hill was sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a fellow inmate in his cell.