ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia this week reversed a Fulton County judge’s ruling granting a stay of execution for a man whose lawyers say he is unfit to be executed.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan last summer postponed Warren Lee Hil’s execution to review a new Georgia statute that protects as “a confidential state secret” the identities of those who supply or compound the drug used in lethal injections. At issue is the constitutionality of a 2013 state law.
Hill was sentenced to death in 1991 after a Lee County jury convicted him of murder in the 1990 bludgeoning death of a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, at the Lee Correctional Institute. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1985 shooting death of his former 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Sylvia Wright.
“Pivotal is the fact that each of Hill’s arguments ultimately centers on his claim that there is an unconstitutional risk that his execution will amount to cruel and unusual punishment,” the majority opinion said.
However, Hill’s expert gave no clear indication regarding the level of risk involved. “This lack of clear testimony about the level of risk involved should, we believe, be set against the fact that the execution drug, pentobarbital in this case, is not an uncommon drug and was produced in the type of pharmacy that is responsible for filling millions of prescriptions per year in this country.”
In the early hours of Aug. 17, 1990, Hill pried a board embedded with nails from beneath the sink of a prison bathroom and, as Handspike slept, pounded him in his head and chest with the board. Onlooking prisoners pleaded with Hill to stop.
Handspike later died at the hospital. A jury recommended the death sentence after finding the murder was committed during an aggravated battery, the murder was “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman,” and Hill had a prior murder conviction.
In 1993, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence.
The failure of Hill’s claims does not stem from any constitutional defect in the statute, the court found. Rather, “the failure of his claims stems simply from the fact that he failed to make any claims that could merit relief.”