ALBANY, Ga. — The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously granted a stay of execution for Warren Lee Hill, a news release issued at about 5:30 p.m. on Monday by the Court states.
Hill, 52, was scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. Monday by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. The high court granted the stay so it could consider an appeal by Hill on whether the Department of Corrections’ recent change to the lethal injection procedure — replacing a three-drug cocktail with a single drug — was a decision subject to the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, which requires public hearings before a change is made.
The court also granted Hill’s application for a discretionary appeal and a premature notice of appeal filed in the case was deemed timely filed, an official order on Hill’s stay states.
Hill was sentenced to death in 1991 after a Lee County jury convicted him of murder in the 1990 bludgeoning death of a fellow prison inmate at Lee Correctional Institute (now Lee State Prison), Joseph Handspike. At the time, Hill was serving a life in prison sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Sylvia Wright.
Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, asked the Supreme Court last week to overturn a state court’s refusal to reconsider Hill’s case and asked the high court to halt the execution, arguing that Hill was mentally disabled and that his death sentence should not be carried out.
Georgia law requires death row inmates to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are mentally disabled to avoid execution. A Butts County Superior Court had ruled that Hill — even though he met the overall criteria for being mentally disabled by a preponderance of evidence — had failed to do that, and that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard was constitutional.
In a separate order, the Supreme Court denied Hill’s request for an appeal on that issue.
All the justices concurred on the question of whether to review Hill’s mental retardation claim except Justice Robert Benham, who dissented, stating, “I cannot join in any ruling by this Court that would allow the execution of Warren Hill Jr., who has been found by a preponderance of the evidence to have a mental disability.”