clear
Friday July 31st, 2015 5:28AM

Ga. high court upholds execution drug secrecy law

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) Georgia's highest court ruled in an opinion published Monday that a state law that makes the identity of an execution drug supplier a ``confidential state secret'' is constitutional.

In a 5-to-2 decision Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that granted a stay of execution to death row inmate Warren Lee Hill. The stay was issued after Hill's lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the 2013 law.

Hill was sentenced to death for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Hill bludgeoned Handspike with a nail-studded board while his victim slept, authorities have said. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who was shot 11 times.

Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines wrote in the 33-page majority opinion keeping secret the identity of entities involved in an execution can shield them from harassment or retaliation from family members of inmates or from death penalty opponents. Hines added that, without that confidentiality, there is a significant risk that entities needed for an execution might be unwilling to participate.

``(W)e conclude that Georgia's execution process is likely made more timely and orderly by the execution-participant confidentiality statute and, furthermore, that significant personal interests are also protected by it,'' the majority opinion says.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Benham recounted the details of the botched April 29 execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution. The secrecy law puts the state on a path that denies death row inmates their rights to due process and could lead to a result similar to what happened in Oklahoma, Benham wrote.

``The fact that some drug providers may be subject to harassment and/or public ridicule and the fact that authorities may find it more difficult to obtain drugs for use in executions are insufficient reasons to forgo constitutional processes in favor of secrecy, especially when the state is carrying out the ultimate punishment,'' the dissenting opinion says.

Hill's lawyers have argued they need to know where the drug comes from so they know whether they have grounds to challenge the use of the drug on the basis of the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The majority opinion says Hill's team failed to demonstrate that his execution by pentobarbital made by an undisclosed compounding pharmacy carried an unconstitutional risk. Pentobarbital is a common drug and compounding pharmacies are relied upon to fill millions of prescriptions every year across the country, the majority opinion says.

Benham countered that the majority was wrong to dismiss Hill's claims as speculative.

``I would hold that it is a violation of due process to reject Hill's cruel and unusual punishment claim as speculative while simultaneously denying him the means by which he has any hope of proving that claim,'' the dissenting opinion says.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 6 months ago )
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 6 months ago )
Sheriff: Man shot 2 on I-85 because he wanted car
A 22-year-old man shot two people who stopped to give him a ride on Interstate 85 in South Carolina on Christmas Eve because he wanted their car to drive to Georgia, a sheriff said Wednesday.
5:21PM ( 6 months ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 6 months ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 7 months ago )
Politics
Atlanta Hawks player arrested after brief Banks County chase
An Atlanta Hawks player faces felony drug charges after the vehicle he was riding in ran from Banks County deputies about 9 a.m. Thursday.
6:02PM ( 11 hours ago )
Banks County sheriff details credit union armed robbery
Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed is releasing more details of the armed robbery of a Homer credit union at 10:20 a.m. Thursday.
4:53PM ( 12 hours ago )
Clermont Councilwoman Lynn Adams resigns
Clermont Town Clerk Sandra Helton said City Councilwoman Lynn Adams submitted her resignation to the city Thursday morning.
3:51PM ( 13 hours ago )
Supporters of Gainesville boy with rare disease to host blood drive
The family of a four-year-old Gainesville boy with a rare disease is hosting a blood drive and fundraiser to support medical needs and bills.
3:28PM ( 14 hours ago )
Inmate dies in custody at Habersham Co. Detention Center
A Habersham County Detention Center inmate died Wednesday while in custody, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
By AccessWDUN Staff
2:48PM ( 14 hours ago )