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Drug Secrecy 'Cruel and Unusual' as Judge Grants Indefinite Stay for Warren Hill

Georgia Attorney General expected to appeal as life of 'mentally disabled' prisoner continues to hang in balance

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The life of Warren Lee Hill Jr., the Georgia prisoner who has been clinically diagnosed as 'mentally disabled,' continues to hang in the balance.

Following a legal challenge to his execution, which was slated for Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan Thursday issued an indefinite stay.

Hill's lawyers argued that the new state law—the "Lethal Injection Secrecy Act," which shields the identity of the companies who make and supply Georgia's lethal injection drugs—violates prisoners' constitutional rights and thus the scheduled execution constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

“The use of an unknown, anonymously produced substance to carry out his execution carries an intolerable risk of pain and suffering, and thus constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” attorney Brian Kammer wrote in a filing with Fulton County Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan agreed, saying the state's secrecy law "does not allow Hill to raise a meaningful challenge that his execution could cause needless suffering because he does not know the source of the drugs being used to kill him or the qualifications of the pharmacy that compounds them," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Death penalty states, including Georgia, have faced a recent shortage of lethal drugs as growing pressure from death penalty opponents have forced mass pharmaceutical manufacturers to cease their production. Georgia has thus turned to compounding pharmacies to make individual doses of the powerful barbiturate pentobarbital, used in the executions.

In order to mask the identity of the pharmacies, the General Assembly recently passed the secrecy law, which took effect July 1.

Hill's execution marks the first time Georgia has used a compounded drug.

The AJC continues:

Hill’s lawyers say they want to test the stock the agency secured because of concerns that counterfeit compounds may have been unknowingly used to make the sedative. The attorneys also say they need to know where the drugs came from to determine whether the compounding pharmacy is reputable and has not faced disciplinary actions.

Following Tusan's announcement, lawyers from the state Attorney General’s office are expected to file an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court. If the block is overturned, Hill could still be put to death by lethal injection at 7 PM Friday.


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