2 Executions Halted: Inmates Are Mentally Disabled

Two executions have been halted in Georgia where attorneys claim they are mentally disabled and still on hold after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift a stay.

“If this were easy, it would have been picked off months ago and not at 6:30 (Tuesday) night,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The fact that it was so late, I think, means that it’s going to be a hard fight. But the 11th Circuit said at least there’s some way that he could still prevail.”

Hill was one of two Georgia inmates scheduled to die this week. The planned Thursday execution of Andrew Cook was also halted.

Lawyers for both Cook and Hill argued in filings before the Georgia Court of Appeals that the state would violate the law by using pentobarbital in executions without a prescription. The government called the claim frivolous and challenged both rulings.

Prosecutors also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the 11th Circuit’s order halting Hill’s execution on the mental disability claim.

Hill was sentenced to die for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Hill used a board studded with nails and bludgeoned Handspike while he slept, authorities 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.

The dissenting opinion from the 11th Circuit illustrates why the fight could be difficult for Hill.

Circuit Judge Frank Hull said Hill has already brought up his claim in federal court and can’t do so again. The judge also faulted Hill’s lawyers for waiting until the last minute to bring up the new evidence even though one of the doctors approached them to say he wanted to reconsider the case in July.

Hill was one of two Georgia inmates to be executed this week. The other was also granted a stay, although the state has appealed.

Hill was convicted in the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. At the time, Hill was serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend.

The state says the defense has failed to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Hill is mentally disabled.

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