Georgia judge extends execution stay, allows challenge to secrecy law

ATLANTA Thu Jul 18, 2013 7:20pm EDT

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia judge indefinitely extended a stay of execution on Thursday for condemned killer Warren Lee Hill that will allow him to challenge a new law shielding the identity and methods of the company that makes the state's lethal injection drugs.

State attorneys will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to lift the stay and allow the execution to proceed on Friday evening. If the stay is lifted, Hill could become the first Georgia prisoner executed with drugs obtained in secret.

If the court declines to act, Hill's punishment could be delayed for months while the law is challenged. That could similarly affect other executions in the state, defense attorney Brian Kammer told Reuters.

Hill, 53, was sentenced to die for fatally beating another inmate in 1990 while serving a life term for killing his girlfriend. His execution had been scheduled for earlier this week but was delayed for Thursday's hearing.

The new Georgia law, which went into effect on July 1, allows the state to conceal the source of lethal injection drugs from the public, attorneys and judges in court proceedings.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan ruled on Thursday that Hill's attorneys were "likely to prevail" on the challenge to the new law, which has never been tested in court.

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

State attorneys said the law was designed to protect those companies from harassment and lawsuits, but defense attorneys argued the law makes it impossible to determine whether a drug has been tainted with other substances that could cause excessive pain to the prisoner.

It is unconstitutional to execute a prisoner in a manner considered to be cruel and unusual punishment, but the law would prevent an inmate's ability to be protected under that provision, attorneys said.

"It could be made in a factory where they make pesticides," Kammer said. "If an execution was botched, the court can't even investigate what went wrong. They say to Mr. Hill, 'Just trust us.'"

State attorneys told Tusan that the dose of the single drug, pentobarbital, Georgia uses in lethal injections is so large that an inmate is rendered unconscious in a few seconds. Even if the drug were contaminated, it would not cause the prisoner undue pain, they said.

"They perish quite quickly," Sabrina Graham, a Georgia assistant attorney general, told Tusan during the hearing.

Georgia has nearly 100 inmates on its death row, some for several decades, according to the state's Department of Corrections website. Hill's is the only execution currently scheduled.

If the state Supreme Court agrees with Tusan's ruling, it could delay the other executions from being scheduled while the legal challenge moves through the courts, Kammer said.

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

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Ken Wills)

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Comments (1)
Velocette wrote:
A civilised society organising the death of a human being? It’s horrible! We need to take the moral ground and say that killing is wrong – send that message to the world. Yes, Warren Hill murdered two people, but does that mean we should murder him – because that’s technically what we are doing.

On top of this, if he has a lower than normal IQ and perhaps doesn’t understand fully his actions – like a child doesn’t – then he should not be executed. Unless the state can be absolutely sure that he is capable of properly comprehending his actions then they must not execute.

If they go ahead, they may be making a terrible mistake. I read that 140 men and women have been released from death-row based on new findings that threw light on their cases – proving reasonable doubt.
Many people have been wrongly executed. One man was almost executed before it was discovered that another man who looked just like him had raped and killed a young woman.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed February, 2004, for murdering his three young children by arson at the family home in Corsicana, Texas. Nationally known fire investigator Gerald Hurst reviewed the case documents, including the trial transcriptions and an hour-long videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene and said in December 2004 that “There’s nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire.” In 2010, the Innocence Project filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas, seeking a judgment of “official oppression”.

Johnny Frank Garrett of Texas was executed February, 1992, for allegedly raping and murdering a nun. In March, 2004, cold-case DNA testing identified Leoncio Rueda as the rapist and murderer of another elderly victim killed four months prior. Immediately following the nun’s murder, prosecutors and police were certain the two cases were committed by the same assailant. In both cases, black curly head hairs were found on the victims, linked to Rueda. Previously unidentified fingerprints in the nun’s room were matched to Rueda. The flawed case is explored in a 2008 documentary The Last Word.

Jesse Tafero was convicted of murder and executed via electric chair May, 1990, in the state of Florida for the murders of two Florida Highway Patrol officers. The conviction of a codefendant was overturned in 1992 after a recreation of the crime scene indicated a third person had committed the murders.

Carlos DeLuna was executed in Texas in December 1989. Subsequent investigation cast profound doubt upon DeLuna’s guilt for the murder of which he had been convicted.

At least 39 executions are claimed to have been carried out in the U.S. in the face of evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt

It costs far more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. A 2011 study found that California has spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978 and that death penalty trials are 20 times more expensive than trials seeking a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. California currently spends $184 million on the death penalty each year and is on track to spend $1 billion in the next five years.

And it’s wrong to execute unless we can be ABSOLUTELY sure – which we very rarely can. Besides that, it just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Jul 19, 2013 1:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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