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February 6, 2013

Two Ga. executions scheduled following court ruling

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia officials on Tuesday ordered February execution dates for two inmates, a day after the state Supreme Court upheld a switch to a new drug used in lethal injections.

The Georgia Department of Corrections said that Warren Lee Hill’s date has been set for Feb. 19, and Andrew Allen Cook’s for Feb. 21.

A legal challenge by Hill’s lawyers to the state’s new injection protocol put a temporary halt to carrying out any death sentences since last summer. The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for executions to resume when it rejected a challenge by Hill’s lawyers to the state’s switch from a three-drug mixture to a single drug.

Hill, 52, was sentenced to death in Lee County 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 as other prisoners watched and pleaded with Hill to stop. At the time Lee was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who had been shot 11 times.

A Monroe County jury sentenced Cook, 38, to death for the 1995 slayings of two Mercer University students. Grant Patrick Hendrickson and Michele Lee Cartagena were shot several times as they sat in a car at Lake Juliette. Cook didn’t know either victim and authorities say the crime was completely random. He wasn’t charged until more than two years later. Cook confessed to his father, a Macon FBI agent who ended up testifying at his son’s trial.

Brian Kammer, an attorney for the state capital defender’s office, is representing both Lee and Cook. He did not immediately return calls to his office and his cellphone seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

In challenging the injection protocol, Hill’s attorneys argued prison officials violated state procedures by failing to hold a public hearing before changing execution methods. The state Supreme Court ruled that switching the drugs doesn’t fall under the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act, and therefore does not require public hearings.

The ruling lifted the stay the court had granted Hill in July, hours before he was scheduled to be put to death.

Georgia changed the drug composition during a nationwide shortage of pancuronium bromide, one of the three that had been used.

Attorneys have also argued in appeals that both men should be spared from the death chamber because they have mental disabilities, but the Georgia Supreme Court has rejected both claims.

 

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