Georgia announced Tuesday that it is switching immediately to single-drug executions from a three-drug combination, following the lead of several other states even as a death row case loomed.
The Georgia Department of Corrections said it will begin using a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out court-ordered death sentences. It had been using pentobarbital to sedate inmates before injecting pancuronium bromide to paralyze them and then potassium chloride to stop their hearts.
Pentobarbital is most commonly used to euthanize animals. Georgia inmate Warren Lee Hill had been set to be executed Wednesday evening, but authorities said that execution has now been rescheduled for Monday.
Hill is the mentally retarded (allegedly) inmate who was recently denied clemency by the State Board of Pardons and Parole. And for those wondering, despite the press coverage referring to Hill by the politically correct "mentally disabled," retardation is the legally recognized term discussed in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) and other areas of the law.
Georgia was the first state to ban executing mentally disabled death row inmates, but the case of an inmate who is to be put to death next week has highlighted the state's strictest-in-the-nation standard for proving mental disability.Sad, really. As the story mentions, Georgia had been at the vanguard of the movement to stop executing the mentally retarded following the Penry v. Lynaugh decision of 1989, where the Supreme Court ruled executing the retarded was not unconstitutional.
Most states that impose the death penalty have a lower threshold for defendants to prove they are mentally disabled, while some states don't set standards at all. Hill's lawyer Brian Kammer said the high standard for proving mental disability is problematic because psychiatric diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome.
Prosecutors have presented expert testimony and evidence that Hill is not disabled, while his attorneys have presented their own evidence to prove he is disabled. That can make it difficult to determine anything beyond a reasonable doubt, said Kay Levine, an associate professor of law at Emory University.
"Beyond a reasonable doubt can never be met if you're simply not sure which side is unequivocally telling the truth and which side is not," said Levine, who has no connection to the Hill case. "The issue with Georgia setting its mental health standard as high as it's set is that it requires such a high level of certainty that even scientists will rarely reach."
But thirteen years later, the court said in Atkins that while executing the mentally retarded was now unconstitutional, it left it up to the states to determine their own thresholds for measuring retardation. The Georgia Legislature then re-wrote its statute to make it the highest (or toughest) in the land.
And while Hill's case merits another mention regarding a bright line from the Supreme Court to definitively say what measure retardation should finally be determined, the real story here concerns the change in the method of lethal injection.
Georgia's switch to the single drug barbiturate isn't surprising, given that it was only a few short months ago the state was busted by the DEA for drug smuggling sodium thiopental. According to the DEA's complaint, the private contractor hired by corrections officials to procure the drug allegedly purchased it from a "pharmaceutical company" that "operated out of the back of a driving school" over in England.
Following that bad press (but interestingly, no arrests or prosecutions for smuggling), the state "studied" the possibility of switching, and the single-drug method got fast-tracked. It remains to be seen, however, if the same contractor will continue to "make a pile of money off of every execution" in the state of Georgia.
So, as Georgia prepares to use the same veterinarian-approved method for putting down our stray criminals as many other states, guess who else is rushing to catch up?
Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state, last week announced that it would change to a single-drug method using pentobarbital. Its first execution using that method is set for Wednesday.
LOL. You know what hunting and executing now have in common? Dogs.