Death-row inmate Warren Hill received another stay of execution this afternoon. But his fight to stay alive is hardly over as his legal team works to uphold today's ruling by a Fulton County judge - and to postpone his death by letahl injection, which is scheduled for tomorrow night.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan sided with Warren Hill today in a hearing over a new state law that would keep the source of lethal injection drugs, including the ones that would be used to execute the death-row inmate, confidential.
Tusan ruled that the Georgia law constitutionally limited Hill's access to the court to defend his Eighth Amendment rights to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. Given the lack of information available to Hill and his attorneys, the judge said the inmate faced potential "irreparable harm" and needed more information to properly decide his case.
State lawmakers passed the legislation creating the statute back in March as a tacked-on amendment to House Bill 122, which primarily deals with the state's Sexual Offender Registration Review Board. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law in May and went into effective on July 1.
Earlier this spring, Georgia came close to running out of lethal-injection drugs. State lawmakers passed the law to protect companies that provide the state with pentobarbital needed for lethal injections from potential pressure and harassment from anti-death penalty activists.
The state Department of Corrections obtained lethal-injection drugs for Hill's execution from a compounding pharmacy - which in the past week has been a major source of contention and discrepancy regarding the compounded drug's lack of approval from the Federal Drug Administration.
During today's hearing, experts from both sides offered conflicting testimony regarding the safety and reliability of drugs mixed by the compounding pharmacies. But Tusan ultimately ruled that Hill's legal team, and the general public, needed additional access to information that was restricted by the secrecy law.
Attorney Brian Kammer, who has represented Hill for 17 years, told reporters that the state plans to appeal the court's decision and that he's expecting the case will be heard in the Georgia Supreme Court tomorrow.
"This case is about the law that protects the information about the origin of the drugs being in lethal injections and some of the participants in the lethal injection process," Kammer says. "It's not necessarily about pentobarbital, it's about where are the ingredients coming from. Who is compounding the drug? Right now, all we know is that it's from a compounding pharmacy from out of state. That does not inspire confidence."
Pending the outcome, the Georgia Supreme Court could either uphold or overturn today's ruling. If the latter happens, it may lead to Hill's stay being vacated and open the door again to his execution. The United States Supreme Court still remains a last resort, but for now he remains schedule to die tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
State lawyers, who after the ruling immediately left to file the Georgia Supreme Court appeal, were not available for comment. But you can read the judge's order after the jump:
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court or the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles intervene, the Georgia Department of Corrections will execute death-row inmate Warren Hill tonight.
It'll be the second time this year that Hill, who is mentally disabled, will face his impending death by lethal injection. Hill, who was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, ended up on death row for the 1990 murder of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike.
Five months ago, he received stays of execution from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Georgia Court of Appeals less than 30 minutes before he was to be killed. Once a point of contention, all seven experts who evaluated Hill - including three who originally stated he wasn't "mentally retarded" - now unanimously agree about Hill's IQ levels.
Nevertheless, Hill's attorneys have exhausted nearly all of their options. Brian Kammer, one of his attorneys, recently told CL that a U.S. Supreme Court intervention remained "one of the last" options left to save his life.
At least 11 protests are expected to take place across Georgia, including a press conference and rally in Atlanta that'll start at 4:45 p.m. at Woodruff Park. Expect plenty of others to chime in as the clock ticks. We'll be updating this post throughout the day with updates on Hill, possible action from the U.S. Supreme Court, statewide rallies, and more.
Hundreds of people throughout Atlanta on Sunday gathered to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Around 7 p.m., hundreds of protesters who'd met in West End Park left the southwest Atlanta greenspace and marched on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Northside Drive, before stopping and blocking traffic on Peachtree Street. The diverse group, which included families, activists, and students, chanted "Justice for Trayvon," hoisted banners, and banged drums while slowing traffic to a crawl.
"People want justice if someone can stalk and confront and kill someone," said Ron Allen of the Georgia Student Justice Alliance, and one of the organizers of the West End rally. "Kill a teenager and not be found guilty of anything, that is unjust. What we are demanding of our political system, judicial system, our economic system, we are demanding justice and fairness."
A heavy rain slowed the group near the Georgia Dome, but many continued past the CNN Center toward Woodruff Park before ultimately corking the intersection of Peachtree Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard. (Check out my Twitter feed for some photos and screenshots of the demonstration.)
Earlier today, nearly 100 people marched from Five Points MARTA station to Centennial Olympic Park. Morehouse College graduates Brandon "Lorencio" Connor and Shan Holder, organized the event to give people the opportunity to express their disappointment with the Florida jury's verdict and demand change.
"We are tired of this happening to people," Connor said into a megaphone across the street from the CNN Center. "We will scream, we will shout until justice has been served. No longer will we sit behind our computers. We won't text about it, tweet about it. We are here!"
Organizers and speakers also urged the crowd to sign an NAACP petition calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal lawsuit against Zimmerman. (The petition is currently inaccessible because it was overwhelmed by possible signers.)
Roughly 50 demonstrators also marched along Auburn and Edgewood Avenues shortly after the not guilty verdict was announced.
Updates - and more photos from this afternoon's protest - to come. Another protest is planned for tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Atlanta University Center. We've heard it's along James P. Brawley Drive but are looking for confirmation (and a more exact location).
Says Mayor Kasim Reed in a statement about a Florida jury's decision to find George Zimmerman not guilty in death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin:
"The genuine tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case is that a mother and father lost their son senselessly. I find it troubling that a 17-year-old cannot walk to a corner store for candy without putting his life in danger. I find it more troubling that a citizen could not see a young African-American youth without immediately concluding that he was up to no good.
While I disagree with the jury's verdict, we must respect it. This case reminds me why my number one priority as Mayor is public safety. I work every day to create a safer city where our sworn police officers are trained and equipped to effectively uphold the law, so that our residents feel secure in their neighborhoods and our diverse communities respect each other. The death of Trayvon Martin shows that we must all work harder to shed the dangerous stereotypes that can have devastating consequences for individuals, families and our society."
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2002 that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prevented the execution of the mentally retarded.
Georgia, even before the Supreme Court made its pronouncement in 2002, enacted a rule that exempted only those who could prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they were mentally retarded from the death sentence. No other state requires such a high level of proof.
But measuring intellectual ability isn't like measuring height. And when an IQ score of 69 (mentally retarded) means life in prison and 70 (borderline) means the death penalty and some experts say mentally retarded and some say borderline, a judge will not find that the super-high standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" has been met.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has announced that Hill, a mentally-disabled inmate sentenced to die for killing fellow inmate Joseph Handspike in 1991, will be executed on Monday, July 15.
The announcement comes five months after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Georgia Court granted Hill two stays of execution, temporarily delaying his execution with less than 30 minutes to go before his scheduled death. The decision was so close to the deadline that Hill had already consumed his final meal.
Brian Kammer, one of Hill's lawyers, has previously told CL that a U.S. Supreme Court intervention is "one of the last things that's possible" to spare the inmate's life.
"All experts who have evaluated Warren Hill agree: he is mentally retarded," Kammer said in a statement. "Mr. Hill's execution would therefore be a grotesque miscarriage of justice and render the Eighth Amendment a mere paper tiger. This case presents the extraordinary circumstance where an individual who is ineligible for a capital sentence is about to be executed. Mr. Hill has no recourse left but to beg the nation's highest court to intervene, and we trust and hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his plea."
Hill's attorneys filed for a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus at the U.S. Supreme Court in late May based on the unanimous agreement from doctors who have examined Hill that he is mentally retarded. That legal move followed the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in April to deny a habeas petition from Hill, which would have further postponed his execution, based on what Kammer called "procedural barriers."
Olens had asked the Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta to vacate its stay following the February decision. At the time, Kammer said the stays "may only be temporary" and would hinge on whether the inmate could litigate a second federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
For now, Hill will have to wait and see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his case.
"I trust that the Supreme Court will not allow this egregious miscarriage of justice to occur," Kammer tells CL
UPDATE, Monday, July 8, 2013: Warren Hill's lawyers have filed a motion for a stay of execution with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. You can read the full motion here. Below is an short excerpt:
The issues at stake in the Petition currently pending in the Supreme Court are clearly of the highest significance and involve the highest stakes. The Supreme Court should be given the time it needs to determine the appropriate resolution to this extraordinary case.
Vendors and city officials have, perhaps unsurprisingly, interpreted a Fulton County judge's recent remarks about the Atlanta's vending ordinances to mean two different things.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua - who yesterday commented on her December 2012 ruling that tossed out the Atlanta's controversial contract which required vendors to lease private kiosks - reminded all parties involved that the city's 2008 vending laws are no longer valid.
But what does that mean moving forward? No one's really sure at the moment which laws, if any, are currently in effect. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Katie Leslie last night nicely summarized how both sides have interpreted LaGrua's latest comments:
Attorneys for Atlanta's public street vendors and city officials agree that Fulton County Superior Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua's December 2012 ruling struck down the city's agreement with Chicago-based General Growth Properties. But they disagree whether her ruling also dismantled the city's repeal of its 2003 vending program.
The vendors' attorneys say her clarification means the city must revert to its former law, which allowed vendors to pay a nominal fee in order to vend on public property.
City officials say it's not so simple and that her ruling effectively tossed out the entire vending program. They say a new ordinance must be passed before vendors are allowed to sell their wares on public property.
Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres told CL on Monday that the city plans to establish a new vending program that's "appropriate for a city of our size and stature" sometime later this year. But that can't come soon enough, vendors say, considering that some have remained sidelined from their work since the Final Four took place in late March.
"It's affected households, children, and also disabled veterans, [the handicapped], and blind people who vend every day in the city," Atlanta Vendors Association President Larry Miller said outside City Hall on Monday following a protest.
Until the new program helps outline the rules for street salespeople, however, it's likely that the conflicting interpretations - and overall confusion - will continue.
The Atlanta Democrat and longtime civil rights activist told ABC's Jeff Zeleny that he was "shocked, dismayed and disappointed" by the court's decision this morning. A little while ago, he elaborated to his constituents:
"Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years.
These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.
I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits. This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected.
I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as "pervasive, widespread or rampant" as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.
As Justice Ginsberg mentioned, it took a Bloody Sunday for Congress to finally decide to fix on-going, institutionalized discrimination that occurred for 100 years after the rights of freed slaves were nullified at the end of the Civil War. I am deeply concerned that Congress will not have the will to fix what the Supreme Court has broken. I call upon the members of this body to do what is right to insure free and fair access to the ballot box in this country."
The AJC's Jim Galloway notes that Lewis is the only person still alive that spoke at the March on Washington 50 years ago. In addition, the congressman will also deliver the Decatur Book Festival's keynote in late August and early September to promote in March: Book One, the first part of a trilogy celebrating his enduring struggle for civil and human rights.
Schick, now a freelance journalist and CL contributor, wants the judge to order the state agency that oversees Georgia's colleges and universities to turn over the documents.
Two months later, Schick, then the editor-in-chief of GPC's The Collegian, filed two separate requests under the Georgia Open Records Act seeking, among other documents, emails between top administrators who were responsible for managing the school's budget.
U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said the 30-count indictment accuses Brooks, who's served under the Gold Dome since 1993, of misappropriating nearly $1 million in donations he solicited for two charitable organizations. Brooks told CL today that the indictment is linked to his efforts to solve a decades-old lynching.
One of the charitable organizations mentioned in the indictment, Universal Humanities Inc., was aimed at combating illiteracy. Yates said the state lawmaker received nearly $800,000 in donations from such companies as Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific, and individuals to spend on teaching programs and hiring tutors.
"In reality, there was no staff," Yates said. "There was no mentoring or tutoring going on. There were no literacy programs being conducted."
Brooks instead allegedly used the cash to pay personal expenses. home repairs, furniture, lawn service, health insurance, dry cleaning, electronic equipment, and other personal purchases.
Yates said the indictment also alleges the lawmaker diverted nearly $300,000 in donations that Brooks solicited for the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, which he operated, to an undisclosed account he opened in the mid-1990s. He also used those funds to pay for personal expenses, she said.
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