State of Georgia high court to hear appeal on lethal injections

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 26, 2013 2:26 PM
State of Georgia high court to hear appeal on lethal injections

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia's Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal in the case of a death row inmate who challenged a new law shielding the identity and methods of companies that make the state's lethal injection drugs.

The decision could delay the execution of Warren Lee Hill by months, the court said.

Hill, 53, was sentenced to die for fatally beating another inmate in 1990 while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. His lawyers claim he is mentally disabled and should not be executed.

Hill's execution was scheduled for July 19 but delayed by Fulton County Judge Gail Tusan after Hill challenged the constitutionality of Georgia's new law concealing the source of lethal injection drugs from the public, attorneys and judges in court proceedings.

The law was passed in March by legislators concerned about the dwindling supplies of pentobarbital, the injection drug, amid pressure by anti-death penalty activists on companies that provide lethal injection drugs to the state, attorneys said.

Attorneys for the state said the law was designed to protect the companies from harassment and lawsuits. But Hill's lawyers argued the law made it impossible to determine whether a drug has been tainted with other substances that could cause excessive pain to the prisoner.

The state of Georgia appealed Tusan's ruling to the state Supreme Court.

In agreeing to hear the case, the court on Monday asked attorneys to address four questions, including whether providing a sample of the execution drug to Hill's attorneys for testing prior to the execution would be a way to the resolve the case.

Oral arguments will likely be held in the next several months, the court said. Meanwhile, a stay of execution for Hill remained in place.

Lauren Kane, spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, declined to comment on Monday's decision. Brian Kammer, Hill's attorney, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

In addition to challenging the constitutionality of the new state law, Hill's lawyers have also filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing he should not be executed because he is mentally disabled.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Jeffrey Benkoe)

(This story was refiled to fix verb tense in the first paragraph)