Decision in Warren Hill's Case

posted Feb 4, 2013, 1:40 PM by GFADP staff

As some of you might know, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in an unanimous decision that the Department of Corrections was not subject to the Administrative Procedures Act when they changed their execution protocol the day before the state planned to execute Warren Hill.


This decision lifts the temporary halt on executions that was in place and paves the way for execution warrants to be issued.


We’ve included coverage of the decision below.


As you know, Georgia’s death penalty system was launched into national and international news in 2011 when the Georgia Department of Corrections’ illegal practice of purchasing lethal injection drugs from a fly-by-night shop behind a driving school in London was exposed, prompting the DEA to raid and seize the black market drugs.


We will keep you posted on any new developments.




Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 @ 9:47 a.m.


Court clears way for execution of killer

By Bill Rankin | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by a condemned inmate over a change in the state’s lethal-injection process, clearing the way for the man’s execution.


In a unanimous opinion, the court approved the Department of Corrections decision to replace a three-drug execution cocktail with one drug. The court found the agency’s change was not subject to the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires public hearing before any such change may be made.


On July 23, just two hours before Warren Hill was to be put to death, the state Supreme Court had halted the execution to give the court time to decide whether the Department of Corrections violated state law.


A week earlier, the agency had delayed Hill’s execution to give it time to switch from three lethal-injection drugs to one, pentobarbital. One of the drugs the state had been using in lethal injections —- 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.


Hill sits on death row for killing fellow inmate Joseph Handspike in 1990 when Hill was already serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. Hill’s capital case has attracted national attention because two judges hearing his appeals had found him more likely than not to be mentally disabled. But appeals courts declined to overturn the death sentence, saying Hill had failed to prove he was mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt, and thus ineligible for execution.


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February 04, 2013 - 9:07 am EST | via The Republic


Georgia Supreme Court rules against death row inmate in case involving execution method



TLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled against a death row inmate who accused prison officials of violating state procedures by failing to hold a public notice hearing before changing the state's execution procedure.


In a ruling released Monday, the court ruled that the decision to replace a three-drug cocktail with one drug for executions is not subject to the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act, so it does not require public hearings before making the change.


With Monday's unanimous decision, the high court lifted the stay of execution it granted last July to Warren Lee Hill hours before he was to die by lethal injection for the 1990 killing of a prison inmate.


Hill was set to be executed July 18. The day before, the Department of Corrections announced the change in its execution protocol and delayed Hill's execution until July 23.


Hill's lawyers challenged the new execution protocol. They said the change was not preceded by a 30-day notice period as required by the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act -- meaning the new method is invalid.


State lawyers countered that the injection protocol is part of the Department of Corrections' standing operating procedures that can be changed by the department commissioner without additional steps.


A few hours before Hill was to be executed, the Georgia Supreme Court stayed the execution so it could determine whether corrections officials broke the law.


Hill was convicted in the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike.


He "removed a two-by-six board embedded with nails that served as a sink leg in the prison bathroom and, as Handspike slept, pounded him in his head and chest with the board as onlooking prisoners pleaded with him to stop," Monday's Supreme Court ruling states.


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February 4, 2013 | The Albany Herald


Justices' ruling lifts stay against condemned man

Warren Lee Hill was convicted in Lee County of killing a fellow prison inmate.


ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court has issued a ruling Monday that effectively lifts the stay of execution of a man convicted of killing a fellow prison inmate in Lee County in 1990.


Lawyers for Warren Lee Hill had challenged the Georgia Department of Correction's decision to abandon the three-drug cocktail previously used to execute inmates with one drug without going through a lengthy series of public hearings as required under the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act.


In a unanimous opinion Monday, the justices ruled that the change in drugs is not subject to the act and lifted the stay of execution previously granted for Hill.


“Specifically, this case concerns who is legally authorized to select the drug or drugs to be used in executions in Georgia and how that choice may be made,” the opinion says. “However, this case could also affect the remaining myriad of management decisions made throughout Georgia’s prison system,” as it concerns “when those decisions must be made directly by the Board of Corrections in its policy-making role versus when they may be left to the statutorily-granted management prerogatives of the Commissioner of Corrections and the Department of Corrections that he manages.”


According to the Georgia Supreme Court, Hill received the death penalty in 1991 after a Lee County jury convicted him of murder in the 1990 bludgeoning death of a fellow prison inmate, Joseph Handspike. Hill and Handspike were inmates at the Lee County Correctional Institute. According to the facts of the case, Hill was already serving a life sentence for murdering his former 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Sylvia Wright, when on the morning of Aug. 17, 1990, he removed a two-by-six board embedded with nails that served as a sink leg in the prison bathroom and, as Handspike slept, pounded him in his head and chest with the board as onlooking prisoners pleaded with him to stop. Handspike later died at the hospital.


In 1993, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence.


Last July, the Lee County Superior Court entered an order for execution during a period of time between July 18 and July 25, 2012. Hours before his execution, the Georgia Supreme Court issued the stay and decided to hear his case.


In today’s opinion, the high court has affirmed the lower court’s ruling and lifted Hill’s stay of execution, concluding that the Board of Corrections “is not specifically required by statute to make rules governing the particular subject of lethal injection procedures….” Under the Georgia Code, the board “shall adopt rules governing the assignment, housing, working, feeding, clothing, treatment, discipline, rehabilitation, training and hospitalization of all inmates coming under its custody.” Hill’s attorneys argued that under this duty to adopt rules governing the “treatment” administered to prison inmates, the board is required to adopt rules governing executions, and “rules” adopted by the board are subject to the Administrative Procedure Act. “We disagree for several reasons,” the high court says in its 21-page opinion. For one thing, the word “treatment” here does not carry the broader meaning of how inmates are handled overall, but rather refers more narrowly to their medical care. “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,” the opinion says.


The order Monday does not state when Hill may be executed.


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