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Hill's execution temporarily stayed

Marvin Jones, president of the Albany chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, speaks at a prayer vigil outside the chapter’s office on Monday evening. Warren Lee Hill, who had been set to die by lethal injection Monday, has been granted a temporary stay until at least Thursday.

Marvin Jones, president of the Albany chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, speaks at a prayer vigil outside the chapter’s office on Monday evening. Warren Lee Hill, who had been set to die by lethal injection Monday, has been granted a temporary stay until at least Thursday.

JACKSON, Ga. -- A Fulton County Superior Court judge on Monday temporarily stayed the execution of Warren Lee Hill just hours before he had been set to die by lethal injection in Jackson.

Officials from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities said late Monday afternoon that the court had stayed the execution so that a briefing could take place concerning Hill's lethal injection complaint. The briefing has been set for 8 a.m. on Thursday, with an execution at 7 p.m. Thursday expected to be set, a GCDD spokeswoman said.

A prayer vigil was conducted Monday evening outside the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Albany chapter office on North Magnolia Street. At the vigil, signs saying "NAACP Against Death Penalty" and "NAACP Justice for Trayvon" were displayed for passing cars to see.

The chapter's president, Marvin Jones, spoke on behalf of the organization's national office concerning its stance on the Hill case.

"To take a life, for whatever reason, it not reason enough," he said at the vigil. "We do feel if a person has committed a crime, they should be punished...Yes, he should be punished, but to the point of death, the NAACP says no.

"We feel there needs to be some prayer for the courts to guide them in making a decision."

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan stayed the execution so she could hear more arguments from Hill's lawyers who say a new law is unconstitutional because it shrouds in secrecy a drug used to execute Georgia citizens. The law, which prohibits the release of information about the lethal drug's manufacturer, was passed in March after the state's cache of the sedative drug expired and national and international pressure made it more difficult for states to obtain it for executions, according to Hill's attorneys.

Hill was set to be executed using a dose of pentobarbital provided to the state by an unnamed manufacturer.

Hill has been convicted of killing a fellow prisoner in Lee County, Joseph Handspike, in August 1990 by beating him to death. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright.

In addition to the injection issue, Hill's attorneys argue that he should not be executed under Georgia's law that bans capital punishment for mentally disabled inmates. State prosecutors say early examinations showed Hill has the capacity to understand his execution and argue that it should move forward.

Court records show Hill scored 69 on one intelligence test and in the 70s on other examinations. Mental disability is generally defined as having a score of 70 or below on intelligence tests, Hill's attorneys said.

In February, Hill's lawyers filed affidavits in a Georgia court by three doctors who found Hill competent 13 years ago but who now believe he is mentally disabled. In the affidavits, one doctor called the earlier evaluation for the state "extremely and unusually rushed" while another said his opinions were "unreliable because of my lack of experience at the time."

The third doctor cited "advances in the understanding of mental retardation" since 2000.

However, in court documents, the state of Georgia said the three state doctors reviewed "extensive materials" before concluding in 2000 that Hill was not mentally disabled, and were thoroughly cross-examined by Hill's attorneys at the time.

The doctors noted in 2000 that Hill had been a recruiter for the U.S. Navy, budgeted his money and was a "father figure" for his siblings, the state said in court documents.

In 1988, Georgia became the first U.S. state to enact a law banning the execution of mentally disabled defendants. Death penalty experts have said Georgia has perhaps the toughest standard in the nation for defining mental disability, requiring proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Over the last few days, there have been several groups and organizations calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene on Hill's behalf.

Upon word of the stay, a series of statewide vigils set for Monday evening coordinated by the developmental disabilities and civil rights advocacy groups were canceled -- including one that had been scheduled to take place at the intersection of Highway 520 and Highway 82 in Dawson.

Reuters News Service contributed to this report.