JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — The execution of a Georgia man who killed a fellow prisoner in 1990 was halted Tuesday at the last minute so courts could consider claims that he's mentally disabled and other issues.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted its stay of execution as 52-year-old Warren Lee Hill was being prepared for lethal injection. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the appeals court said further review is needed of recent affidavits by doctors who changed their minds about Hill's mental capacity.
"In other words, all of the experts — both the State's and the petitioner's — now appear to be in agreement that Hill is in fact mentally retarded," judges in the majority wrote in their order.
The state court of appeals also issued a stay to allow more time to consider a challenge related to the state's lethal injection procedure.
Earlier in the day, the state parole board, the Supreme Court of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court had all declined to stop the execution.
"We are greatly relieved that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the execution of Warren Hill, a person with mental retardation. All the doctors who have examined Mr. Hill are unanimous in their diagnosis of mental retardation," defense attorney Brian Kammer said in an email.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general declined comment.
Hill was sentenced to die for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Authorities say he used a board studded with nails to bludgeon Handspike while he slept and other prisoners pleaded with Hill to stop. At the time Hill was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who had been shot 11 times.
Hill has received support from various activists and from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.
"Georgia should not violate its own prohibition against executing individuals with serious diminished capacity," President Carter said in a statement.
Hill was originally set to be executed in July, but the state delayed his execution when it changed its execution procedure from a three-drug combination to a one-drug method. The state Supreme Court then further delayed the execution after Hill's lawyers filed a challenge saying corrections officials violated administrative procedure when they made the change. The state's high court earlier this month denied that challenge, and Hill's execution was reset for Tuesday.
Georgia's supply of the single drug it uses to perform executions is scheduled to expire next month, and state officials haven't said whether they've found a way to get more of the powerful sedative pentobarbital. Another inmate, Andrew Allen Cook, is set to be put to death Thursday, but no other executions are currently scheduled.