Death row inmate's execution halted over lethal injection concerns

theGRIO REPORT - Hundreds of protesters are expected to rally across Georgia later today in support of an African-American death-row prisoner who is scheduled to be executed tonight...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

GEORGIA – A black American death-row prisoner won a temporary reprieve on Monday just hours before his scheduled execution by a judge who expressed concerns over the state’s new law governing lethal injections.

Warren Lee Hill, 53, was set to die by lethal injection at 7p.m. in Jackson, Georgia.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan stayed the execution pending a hearing on Thursday, so she could hear more arguments from Hill’s lawyers, who are concerned by secrecy surrounding the execution process in Georgia.

The new Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which was passed in Georgia in March, hides from the public the manufacturer of the drug used in lethal injections and the physicians who prescribe it.

Hill was set to be executed using a dose of pentobarbital provided to the state by an unnamed manufacturer.

His looming execution has been in the public domain for some time.Proponents, including Hill’s lawyers, have said he shouldn’t be executed because he is mentally retarded.

“It is extremely inhumane to execute the mentally retarded,” said Edward O DuBose, Georgia NAACP conference president.

Hill was sentenced to death in 1990 for the fatal beating of fellow prison cellmate, Joseph Handspike, with a board studded with nails. At the time of the murder, he was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of his girlfriend, Myra Wright.

“The three doctors who originally testified against him have retracted and have all acknowledged that Warren Lee Hill is mentally retarded,” said DuBose. The Handspike family has also publicly stated that they do not agree with the execution, he added.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute people with intellectual disabilities, it left it up to the individual states to determine how to assess mental retardation.

While most states use a standard called “preponderance of evidence,” Georgia is the only state to require a much stricter standard, “beyond a reasonable doubt” in making this assessment. And the state of Georgia has long argued that Hill’s lawyers have failed to do that.

Still, Rita Young, director of public policy at All About Developmental Disabilities, said Georgia’s notoriously tough stance is troubling.

“Georgia requires a defendant to prove intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Young. “It’s the heaviest burden of proof in the law. Georgia is the only state that requires this.

“It’s a glitch in the law and we need to bring it to what national standards are. Regardless of what happens today we will to continue our advocacy efforts to change the law in Georgia,” he added.

“The international spotlight is once against on Georgia” said DuBose. “The state has moved from one extreme to another, from executing an innocent man [Troy Davis] to executing a mentally ill man. Even proponents of capital punishment are opposed to the execution of the mentally ill.”

In fact, Hill has come within hours of death twice in the past year before scheduled executions were halted by last-minute court orders.

In May, Hill’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay their client’s execution until the court has a chance to consider new evidence they have filed. The court is currently due to consider whether to take up his case on September 30.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti