Lawyer: Hill's death sentence could be carried out
September 15, 2006
Florida Lawyer: Hill's death sentence could be carried out
By RON WORD, Associated Press
Condemned police killer Clarence Hill faces execution next week after federal courts have refused to once again stop his death based on his claims that Florida's lethal injection process is unconstitutional.
Hill was strapped to a gurney with lines running into his arms in January, when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution for the 1982 shooting death. In June, the high court ruled unanimously that he could ask federal courts to decide whether the injection chemicals are too painful and amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
But so far, federal courts haven't ruled on whether the chemicals should be used, and have agreed with the state's arguments that Hill should have challenged the use of the chemicals when the state switched to lethal injection in 2000. Gov. Jeb Bush has rescheduled the execution for 6 p.m.Wednesday.
"By arbitrarily setting an execution date ... the state has attempted to manipulate the process and kill Mr. Hill before its unconstitutional method of execution is reviewed on its merits," defense attorney D. Todd Doss argued in court documents before the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.
But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle refused to grant a stay to Hill's execution and accused Hill in court documents of engaging in delaying tactics to halt his execution. Doss challenged that ruling Thursday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which has previously turned him down.
Hill, 48, has argued that the three chemicals used in Florida executions and by many other states - sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassiumchloride - can cause excruciating pain. The first drug is a painkiller. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack.
A 2005 study published in the Lancet medical journal questioned whether a painkiller administered at the start of an execution can wear off before a prisoner dies, causing the inmate severe pain. Hill based his legal claims on that study.
Carolyn Snurkowski, an attorney handling death penalty cases for Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, said Hill is not entitled to challenge the chemicals used. She also said Hill shouldn't have waited until four days before his scheduled execution in January to challenge them. Doss, however, said he could not file the challenge until the death warrant was signed last November.
The Supreme Court only allowed him the right to file his claims, not "an automatic license for an evidentiary hearing," Snurkowski said.
Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on the death penalty, was surprised that Hill has not received a court hearing to determine the merits of his claims.
"The problems in Florida are shared with other states - the chemicals used, poor training, the environment in which injections are done and the secrecy of the process," Denno said.
Doss said the only court hearing since Hill received the stay was his appearance before the Supreme Court, which didn't decide whether the injections were cruel and unusual punishment.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in June that while Hill and other inmates can file special appeals under a federal civil rights law after exhausting regular appeals, they will not always be entitled to delays in their executions.
Mark Elliott, a spokesman for Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, believes Hill should receive his day in court."With so many unanswered questions about Florida's method of execution, this action by the lower courts is a ghoulish abuse of the legal system," Elliott said. "What is hidden behind the killing room curtain."
Hill was condemned for killing police Officer Stephen Taylor during the Oct.22, 1982, robbery of a savings and loan in Pensacola. Taylor's relatives traveled to Starke in January to see Hill die and were disappointed with a stay. They want it to happen this time.
Jack Taylor, of Pensacola, said there is no doubt that Hill shot and killed his brother and he is unhappy with the fight over whether Hill might feel pain when he is executed.
"When it comes to the fact that he will be uncomfortable when he dies, that is bull," Taylor said.-
--Source : Associated Press