By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday granted a stay of execution to a two-time murderer hours before he was due to become the state's first inmate to undergo lethal injection using one drug instead of three.
The court said it would decide whether the recent decision by the Department of Corrections, switching the lethal injection process from three drugs to one, violated the state's Administrative Procedures Act.
The act requires a 30-day public comment period before a change in procedure is allowed.
Warren Lee Hill, 52, was sentenced to death for fatally beating another inmate in 1990 while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend by shooting her 11 times.
Hill was due to be executed last week but the state delayed it until Monday after announcing the switch from a three-drug cocktail that included pentobarbital to pentobarbital alone. The drug is sometimes used to euthanize animals.
Georgia officials did not say what prompted the change to the single drug. But in a legal challenge filed on Friday, Hill's attorney, Brian Kammer, said Georgia's supply of pancuronium bromide - one of the three drugs previously used in lethal injections - expired on July 1.
Kammer argued corrections officials did not give the required 30-day notice under state law of the change, depriving his client of adequate time to review the new procedure.
Texas last week carried out its first execution using only pentobarbital because another drug was no longer available.
Arizona, Idaho, Ohio and Washington also have used a one-drug protocol in executions, and Missouri and South Dakota have announced plans to do so, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.
Richard Dieter, the center's executive director, said the single drug causes a slower death but is potentially less painful than the three-drug cocktail.
Hill's execution had been scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT on Monday and would have been the 25th this year in the United States, the center said.
Hill was serving a life sentence for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, when he killed fellow prisoner Joseph Handspike in August 1990 by beating the man to death while he slept.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)