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Georgia S.C. Upholds Confidentiality for Execution Drug Suppliers

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The "heckler's veto" strategy for obstructing justice in the worst murder cases took a hit yesterday.  The Georgia Supreme Court rebuffed an attack on a state law that permits compounding pharmacies to supply the drugs needed for a humane execution without getting a deluge of hate mail and a pack of angry demonstrators outside their offices.

The Eleventh Circuit has described the crimes of Warren Lee Hill thusly:

In 1990, while serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend, Hill murdered another person in prison. Using a nail-studded board, Hill bludgeoned a fellow inmate to death in his bed. As his victim slept, Hill removed a two-by-six board that served as a sinkleg in the prison bathroom and forcefully beat the victim numerous times with the board about the head and chest as onlooking prisoners pleaded with him to stop. Although in jail for life for one murder, Hill continued to kill.
Given that a second life sentence would be meaningless, the State of Georgia has two choices to punish Hill for the second murder: (1) death, or (2) no punishment.  The State has made the obvious choice, but Hill has managed to avoid his deserved punishment to date.  His latest claim is that the State must disclose the suppliers of the lethal injection drugs, and he got an injunction from a state trial court on that claim.  Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed in a very thoughtful and well-reasoned opinion.
The court deals with a few procedural issues along the way.  For example, the expiration of the particular batch of drugs at issue does not render the case moot, invoking the "capable of repetition yet evading review" rule.  There is also a discussion about the jurisdictions of a court hearing a civil case and the court that rendered the judgment in the criminal case.

The court notes that if a case arises where a defendant has made out a substantial Eighth Amendment claim and needs only the identity of the supplier to complete his case, a court might order testing of the drug as an alternative.  The court does not go further down that road, however, as Hill's constitutional claim falls far short of what would be needed.

Beginning on page 17, the court takes on Hill's expert and his complaints about compounding pharmacies.  The main complaint is that some percentage of drugs supplied by compounding pharmacies turn out not to be sterile.  The Georgia Supreme Court correctly recognizes that in the context of lethal injection drugs, that claim is utterly, preposterously irrelevant:

However, even accepting this figure regarding the contamination of "sterile products," the fact remains that sterility is simply a meaningless issue in an execution where, as the record showed, unconsciousness will set in almost instantaneously from a massive overdose of an anesthetic, death will follow shortly afterward before consciousness is regained, and the prisoner will never have an opportunity to suffer the negative medical effects from infection or allergic reactions from a possibly non-sterile drug.
But wait, it gets worse:

Particularly unpersuasive is Hill's expert's testimony that certain contaminants also could have the following effect: "Their blood pressure would drop precipitously, and ultimately it's possible that they could die." Such a side effect obviously would be shockingly undesirable in the practice of medicine, but it is certainly not a worry in an execution.
That's right, the expert testified that if a drug with "contaminants" is used, the inmate might die during the execution.  In medicine, death is the ultimate harmful "side-effect," but in executions death is the "main effect."  "Particularly unpersuasive" indeed.

Continuing,

He also testified that, with the passage of time following the administration of a contaminated drug, someone's temperature could rise, leading to seizures. However, once again, such a side effect would be irrelevant in an execution inducing nearly instantaneous unconsciousness and the rapid onset of death before consciousness is regained.
"With the passage of time"?  Some years back there was an inmate who put aside part of his last meal to eat later, and this was touted by the usual suspects as proof he was insane.  Evidently we have an expert witness with a touch of that same insanity.

The court goes on with this for a bit longer and then rejects some other far-fetched constitutional claims, including separation of powers and First Amendment.  You have to read it to believe it.

Well done, and congrats to the Georgia Attorney General's office.

4 Comments

Kent,

I believe there must be an mistake in this story. It says that the defendant killed while already serving a life sentence for a prior murder.

That can't be right. As we have been told so many times, when a killer gets life, that makes us safe as we would be had he received the death penalty.

Please don't let too much time go by before fixing this mistake, because otherwise people might think abolitionists don't always tell.........uh, that occasionally they might stretch...........ummmm, that they might be less than fully accurate in.........er, ahem, well......never mind.

I wonder if Hill (or any of the inmates claiming the necessity to know who made the execution drugs) has ever admitted to drug use. The irony of someone who smoked meth made from harsh chemicals in the backseat of a car worrying about where the execution drugs came from is quite amusing.

I almost think prisoners who murder other prisoners or guards should face summary punishment military style - even in this case Hill has been lingering on Death Row for years and his punishment has been nothing.

Hill will be wrongly executed whether it be
for murder A or murder B.
He/she is young, black, retarded, and trans-
gendered.
And innocent, you know.

~Adamakis

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