ATLANTA — The planned execution of twice-convicted killer and former Lee Correctional Institution inmate Warren Lee Hill has been delayed until at least Friday night. A hearing on his case is scheduled for this morning in Fulton County Superior Court.
Hill was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Myra Wright in 1986 and later a cell mate, Joseph Handspike, while Hill and Handspike were inmates at the facility now known as Lee State Prison.
The original issue bringing controversy to Hill’s planned execution was the disagreement regarding his mental competency. The state has successfully met challenges in that regard.
Hill’s execution was set for Monday, but that day Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail S. Tusan issued a temporary stay until this morning’s hearing.
Hill’s execution time has been reset to 7 p.m. Friday. The death warrant expires Saturday.
At the center of the new challenge centers on the drug Pentobarbital, which is required to accomplish the lethal injection, and the secrecy the state has insisted upon concerning its origin and quality.
Pentobarbital has been difficult to obtain because, in protest of U.S. executions, European manufacturers ceased production of the drug in 2011. With sources of Pentobarbital dwindling, its efficacy and the legality of its procurement are being questioned by Hill’s defense team.
The state law that went into effect July 1 makes the identities of providers of lethal injection drugs a state secret so they’re not subject to protests from those opposed to capital punishment. In the complaint filed on Hill’s behalf, his attorneys attack the Georgia statute that the defense says prohibits the Georgia judiciary from learning the quality of the execution drugs and the manufacturers.
“There has never been, in Georgia’s history such a court-blinding state secret,” the defense statement read, “not even for treason.”
Hill’s defense is expected to include in today’s hearing a statement from Dr. Larry Sasich, a pharmacy consultant. In his affidavit, Sasich expressed concern with the efficacy of drugs obtained through compounding pharmacies, such as the one the state may be planning to use in Friday’s scheduled execution of Hill.
According to Hill’s lawyers, the freezing out of judicial review of capital protocol creates a “grave risk” that their client will be subjected to “excruciating and unnecessary pain and suffering” upon the onset of execution.
According to the Defense brief, the state has used substandard, “illegally imported, compromised drug” in two previous executions.
“Both executions that used this supply of illegally imported, compromised drugs resulted in significant pain and suffering for the individuals executed,” according to the defense brief. “In Brandon Rhodes’ case, his eyes remained open for the entirety of his execution, indicating consciousness during the process. In the case of Emmanuel Hammond, Mr. Hammond’s eyes also remained open, and he grimaced and appeared to trying to communicate throughout his execution.”