Georgia high court grants stay of Monday execution

The Georgia Supreme Court has stayed Monday evening's scheduled execution of a man convicted of killing a fellow prison inmate, saying it would consider the condemned man's challenge of a change in execution procedure.

Warren Lee Hill had been scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Monday at the state penitentiary at Jackson. But the high court said in a statement Monday afternoon that it was unanimously staying the execution in order to consider an appeal by the inmate challenging Georgia's recent switch to a single-drug execution method.

Hill was convicted in the Aug. 17, 1990, beating death of Joseph Handspike. Hill was serving a life sentence at the time for the shooting death of his 18-year-old girlfriend.

Hill's lawyers, among other issues, had challenged the state's recent switch from a three-drug lethal injection procedure to a one-drug method. The change was announced last week by Corrections authorities and Hill had been scheduled to be the first Georgia inmate put to death with the single-drug procedure.

"I am profoundly grateful that the Supreme Court entered this stay of execution," said Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, after learning of the court's stay.

In a brief statement Monday, the high court said it would consider the defense challenge and, specifically, whether the switch to a single drug was subject to the state's Administrative Procedure Act, which requires public hearings before such a change is made. The statement released by a court spokeswoman, Jane Hansen, did not specify how long the court's consideration of the matter would take.

Hill had been the first inmate set to be executed in Georgia since the state changed its execution procedure last week from a three-drug injection to a single dose of the sedative penotobarbital.

Defense lawyers had also recently argued that Hill should be spared because he was mentally disabled and federal law prohibits states from executing the mentally disabled. But the state had countered that the defense had failed to conclusively show a mental disability.

Hill's execution was initially scheduled for last Wednesday. But corrections officials rescheduled it when they announced last Tuesday that they were changing from a three-drug combination for executions to a single-drug method.

Corrections officials had said last week that they would now use a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out court-ordered death sentences. The state previously used pentobarbital to sedate inmates before injecting pancuronium bromide to paralyze them and then potassium chloride to stop their hearts.

Hill was convicted in July 1991 on charges of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in Handspike's death. The jury recommended the death sentence in August 1991.