Thursday, February 13, 2014

Georgia's Supreme Court to hear Warren Lee Hill appeal on Monday

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 4:51 PM

Georgia's highest court is expected to hear oral arguments on Monday over whether death-row inmate Warren Lee Hill's indefinite stay of execution should remain in effect.

The Supreme Court of Georgia this afternoon said it plans to consider the state's appeal contesting a July 2013 ruling regarding the constitutionality of a new law that conceals the names of the state's lethal injection drug suppliers.

Hill, a death-row inmate with an IQ of 70, first received a death sentence in 1991 after he bludgeoned his fellow inmate Joseph Handspike with a nail-studded board. Before that, he was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend Myra Wright. Throughout 2013, Hill survived multiple near-execution attempts for several different reasons, including the growing controversy over the new state law.

Seven months ago, state Attorney General Sam Olens filed a petition for immediate review following Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan's decision to grant Hill, who was scheduled to be executed, an indefinite stay. The reprieve came after Hill's attorneys raised concerns over whether Georgia's secrecy law prevented death-row inmates from obtaining information needed to mount a proper legal defense.

"[The law] does not bar Hill's access to the courts in any way. It does not and has not prevented Hill from challenging the lethal injection protocol, or from obtaining information on the drug's purity and its sterility," Olens' appeal said.

The state AG's office, however, was unable to file the petition before the Supreme Court of Georgia went into recess for the entire month of August. Soon after, Hill's execution warrant expired. Seven months later, the high court will finally review the case and focus on four main questions. From the court's case summary:

* Is the case moot since the current supply of pentobarbital has expired and it is unclear how the State would obtain a new supply of execution drugs?
* Did the Fulton County Superior Court have the authority to stay Hill's execution?
* Could the whole issue of the statute's constitutionality be avoided if Hill's attorneys were given certain information not prohibited by the statute, including a sample of the actual compounded pentobarbital to be used in his execution so they could have it tested?
* Did Judge Tusan err by issuing the stay based on Hill's challenge of the statute's constitutionality?

Hill's case is set to begin on Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. We've reached out to Hill lawyer Brian Kammer for comment. If we hear back, we'll post an update. Next week, CL's cover story will take a close look at Georgia's death penalty, its controversial practices, and Hill's longstanding case.

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