Lawyers from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office were unable to file an appeal Friday after a Fulton County Judge granted a stay of execution to death row inmate Warren Lee Hill. Hill’s execution was scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
Hill's attorney, Brian Kammer, issued a statement late Friday:
“We are deeply relieved that Warren Hill will not be executed tonight in order for the courts to more thoughtfully deliberate Mr. Hill’s mental retardation claim and the extreme secrecy surrounding Georgia’s lethal injection law.”
Hill was sentenced to receive the death penalty in 1991 after he was found guilty of beating his cellmate to death. At the time of that crime, Hill was serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend in 1986.
According to Lauren Kane, the spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, they could not file an appeal because they did not have a transcript from Thursday’s hearing in Fulton County Superior Court.
That hearing took place because Kammer filed a motion for an injunction to hold off Hill’s execution due to what he argued could be safety issues with the state’s lethal injection drug, pentobarbital. State legislators passed a law this year that allows Georgia to keep confidential the names of people and companies involved in providing the drug to the state for executions. The state has only said that it purchased pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy.
Kammer argued that the secrecy surrounding the origins of the drug infringe on Hill’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Kammer said without information about who produced the drug, there is no way for Hill to research potential problems with the lab or the process used to create the pentobarbital.
“Mr. Hill could well be executed in a way that causes pain and suffering but he will never have a chance to […] prevent that,” Kammer said in his closing arguments Thursday.
Kammer also argued that the new law conflicts with the state’s separation of powers, concealing the information from court officials just like the general public.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan decided Kammer’s arguments could have merit and warranted a stay of execution until the court can sort out the issues involved.
“The court finds that while [the state does] indeed have an interest in carrying out a sentence timely, the injury that would be sustained by [Hill] if he were to be executed in such a way that violated his Eighth Amendment right would far surpass that of the [state] having to put off [Hill’s] execution another time,” Judge Tusan read from her decision.
Attorneys for the state argued that the pentobarbital that would be used for Hill’s execution is such a high dosage that Hill would die before any negative effects could be felt, even if the drug had been contaminated in some way. They also maintained that the state has an interest in protecting the names of those supplying the drug to Georgia.
Kane said Fulton County will send the completed transcript to the Attorney General’s Office Monday.