On February 4th, The Georgia Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a condemned inmate who argued that the state illegally substituted the drugs used in lethal injections.
The decision has, once again, set the execution of Warren Hill in motion. Last July, the court had decided to halt Hill’s execution only two hours before he was to be put to death. The justices had granted him a stay of execution, saying that they needed to decide whether the Department of Corrections had indeed violated state law when it replaced a three-drug execution cocktail, with one drug, pentobarbital.
Hill was placed on death row after killing a fellow inmate by the name Joseph Handspike in 1990; Hill was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend.
Hill’s case earned national attention when the two judges that were hearing his appeals found him to be mentally disabled. Appeals courts had declined to overturn the death sentence, saying that Hill had failed to prove that he was mentally disabled beyond a “reasonable doubt”, and was deemed ineligible for execution.
The Department of Corrections changed its lethal-injection procedure after it was discovered that one of the drugs that it was using-the paralytic pancuronium bromide-had expired two weeks before Hill’s initially scheduled execution, according to records obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Open Records Act.
The main issue was whether the switch was subject to the Administrative Procedure Act, which allows for 30 days for public comment. The state of Georgia didn’t follow that procedure because it said, “it was not required to do so.”
Hill’s attorneys argued that public comment was required because the change in lethal-injection drugs fell under a condition of the act: rules governing the “treatment” of inmates.
Justice Harris Hines begs to differ.
“Lethal injection may involve a drug or drugs that could be used in medical care; however, using a massive dose of a drug with the sole intention of causing immediate death cannot, we think, be reasonably described as medical care,” he wrote.