AFRICANGLOBE – A judge dramatically stayed a Georgia inmate’s scheduled execution for a third time on Monday, after attorneys raised questions involving the state’s supply of execution drugs.
Lawyers for Warren Lee Hill, 52, have long argued that he is ‘mentally disabled’ and therefore shouldn’t be executed.
The lethal injection was halted just three hours before it was due to be carried out.
The state maintains that the defense failed to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Hill is mentally disabled.
The death-row prisoner was sentenced to death in 1990 for the lethal beating of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike with a board studded with nails to the distress of other inmates.
At the time of the murder, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who he shot 11 times.
According to Hill’s lawyers the judge has now planned a hearing for Thursday.
As reported by the Guardian, the attorneys for the inmate argued that Georgia’s new Lethal Injection Secrecy Law violates his rights.
The legislation has come into being after controversy and uncertainty about how the state imports the drugs used for lethal injections.
pharmaceuticals are currently the subject of a growing international boycott.
Hill’s lawyer Brian Kammer said he was relieved by the latest decision. ‘At this time, there is far too much we do not know about how the state intends to proceed in this, the most extreme act a government can take against a citizen,’ Kammer said.
This wasn’t the first time Hill’s scheduled execution has been halted by a challenge to Georgia’s execution method.
Last July, a previous execution date was put on hold by an earlier challenge to the state’s plan to change from a three-drug injection to a single dose of pentobarbital.
The state Supreme Court later authorized the execution to proceed and Hill came within 30 minutes of the execution in February.
It was then halted again so courts could consider claims Hill is mentally disabled. That stay was lifted in April and the execution rescheduled for Monday.
On February 19 Hill was set to be executed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night, but shortly before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay on claims by Hill that he was mentally disabled and thus ineligible for execution, Kammer said.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling for Warren Lee Hill as corrections officials prepared his lethal injection for later in the evening.
Earlier in the day, the state parole board, the Supreme Court of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court had all declined to stop the execution.
‘We are greatly relieved that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Warren Hill, a person with mental retardation.
‘All the doctors who have examined Mr. Hill are unanimous in their diagnosis of mental retardation,’ defense attorney Brian Kammer said in an email.
‘I think we were within about a half hour of the execution.’
Hill has received support from various activists and from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.
‘Georgia should not violate its own prohibition against executing individuals with serious diminished capacity,’ President Carter said in a statement.
A fierce legal battle raged over the death penalty sentence of Hill in February.
Despite originally testifying for the state, three doctors who claimed that Hill was not mentally disabled dramtically changed their minds.
Hill’s lawyers have continually argued that their client has had mental issues for the duration of his incarceration, and are doing everything in their power to spare his life.
Authorities said that Hill, who was already serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, Maya Wright four years earlier, attacked Handspike again and again with a nail embedded in a piece of plank.
Handspike died of his injuries. However, the Handspike family has publicly declared that they do not agree with Hill’s execution.
Hill’s lethal injection would have gone directly against the 2002 case, Atkins v. Virginia, which ruled that Daryl Atkins was ‘mentally retarded’ and was not of sound mind, and therefore could not be sentenced to death.
Dr Thomas Sachy wrote in a February affidavit: ‘Having reviewed my earlier evaluation results and the far more extensive materials from the record of this case, I believe that my judgement that Mr Hill did not meet the criteria for mild mental retardation was in error.’
The other doctors concede and claimed their evaluations of Hill in 2000 were ‘rush jobs,’ according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The state said that Hill’s lawyers failed to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the man is mentally disabled.
Lauren Kane, a spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s Office, declined comment, at the time.
Hill was originally scheduled to be executed in June, but the Supreme Court allowed him a stay of execution while his attorneys pursued a challenge based on the state’s changing of execution method.
Hill is among three Georgia inmates on Death Row fighting for a court order that would prevent the state from using a drug to execute them without a doctor’s prescription first.
Hill, along with Andrew Allen Cook and Marcus Wellons, argue that the Georgia Department of Corrections’ use of the drug without a doctor’s prescription violates the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Even if the court finds him mentally disabled, Hill would still spend the rest of his life in prison, the Journal-Constitution says.
The case has stirred a national outcry of those believing Hill to be mentally unwell. If he is executed, it will be the first carried-out execution in the state since the 2011 death of Troy Davis.
At the time, Davis’ conviction and condemnation drew fury, as many believed that Davis was the victim of mistaken identity in the murder of Burger King guard Mark MacPhail in 1989.
Prosecutors and MacPhail’s family said they were certain Davis was guilty and that justice was served.
Prison officials also provided an audio recording and transcript of his last words, which he used to again proclaim his innocence and urge his supporters to “continue to fight this fight.”
Davis was notified of the execution date on Sept. 7, and a day later he was asked to make a last meal request. He scrawled a response in big letters: “None. Will Be Fasting!”
According to figures collected by Amnesty International, the U.S. was the only country within the G8 to carry out executions in 2011.