Georgia court upholds law concealing execution drug sources

ATLANTA Mon May 19, 2014 2:35pm EDT

Warren Lee Hill is shown in this undated Georgia Department of Corrections photograph. REUTERS/Georgia Department of Corrections/Handout

Warren Lee Hill is shown in this undated Georgia Department of Corrections photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Georgia Department of Corrections/Handout

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia's law shielding the identity and methods of companies that make its lethal injection drugs is constitutional and should not prevent death row inmate Warren Lee Hill from being executed, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Justices in a 5-2 vote lifted the stay of execution granted to Hill by a lower court after he challenged the 2013 law permitting the source of lethal injection drugs to be concealed from the public, attorneys and judges in court proceedings.

In upholding the state law, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that, without confidentiality, there was "a significant risk that persons and entities necessary to the execution would become unwilling to participate."

The dissenting justices said they worried the secrecy could lead to more botched executions similar to what happened last month in Oklahoma, which also does not disclose its drug sources.

The inmate in that case, convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett, died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the state administered the execution drug on April 29.

"I fear this state is on a path that, at the very least, denies Hill and other death row inmates their rights to due process and, at the very worst, leads to the macabre results that occurred in Oklahoma," Justice Robert Benham wrote in the dissenting opinion.

Georgia lawmakers passed the measure last year amid concerns about the dwindling supply of pentobarbital as anti-death penalty activists pressured companies to stop providing the execution drug.

Hill, 53, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection last July for fatally beating another inmate in 1990 while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend.

One of Hill's attorneys, Brian Kammer, said the defense team was exploring options on how to proceed in the case.

The ruling "effectively affords the state of Georgia carte blanche to alter their lethal injection protocol in any way it sees fit, and to conceal from the public and even the courts the identity and provenance of the chemicals it intends to use to carry out executions," Kammer said in a statement.

Hill's attorneys also have challenged his execution on the grounds that he is mentally disabled, but the U.S. Supreme Court last fall declined to hear the case.

A spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said he was pleased with the ruling on Monday.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andrew Hay)

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