A second Georgia execution has been put on hold.
Twenty-six hours before Andrew Cook was scheduled to die, the Georgia Court of Appeals on Wednesday issued a stay, much like it did Tuesday night on behalf of condemned killer Warren Lee Hill.
The state’s lawyers pushed Wednesday to have courts lift the two stays. Cook was sentenced to die for a 1995 double murder and Hill was given a death sentence for the 1990 beating death of a fellow inmate.
Ordinarily, the state Court of Appeals does not handle death penalty cases. But with regard to Cook and Hill, the appellate judges are considering whether a prison pharmacy must first have a doctor’s prescription before it can dispense pentobarbital, the sedative that the state has opted to use as its only drug in lethal injections.
The circumstances of both cases change often.
“In these cases everybody is trying to guess at what’s going on,” said law professor Michael Mears, who was once head of the state’s Capital Defender’s Office, which provided defense attorneys in death cases.
Two appellate courts issued the orders Tuesday that halted Hill’s execution.
A panel for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to stay Hill’s execution to allow time for lawyers to argue whether Hill had “new evidence” that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he is mentally retarded.
At the same time, the Georgia Court of Appeals stayed Hill’s lethal injection because it was considering a challenge brought by Hill, Cook and a third death row inmate concerning whether a prison pharmacy violated the law by dispensing the lethal injection drug without a doctor’s prescription.
“It would surprise me if the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t lift the stays” the state Court of Appeals issued, Mears said.
The state attorney general’s office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court to lift the stays.
Hill could still be executed within weeks if both of the stays are lifted by noon on Feb. 26, when the execution warrant expires.
Hill was condemned to die more than 20 years ago for using a nail-studded board to beat to death Joseph Handspike, a fellow inmate at a southwest Georgia prison. At the time, Hill was serving a life term for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend, Myra Wright, by shooting her 11 times in 1986.
Experts initially testified Hill was eligible for the death penalty because he was not mentally retarded. But last summer three experts told Hill’s lawyers that they had changed their minds. It is illegal to execute a mentally retarded person.
As for Cook, he, too, could still be put to death within weeks if his stay is lifted before noon on Feb. 28, when the execution warrant expires.
Cook was 20 when he shot Grant Patrick Henderson and Michele Cartagena 14 times with an AR-15 and five times with a Ruger. They were parked at “the Point,” a small peninsula that juts into Lake Juliette in Monroe County, and Cook picked them at random.
All investigators had was a report of a Honda CRX in the area, the types of weapons used, and the DNA in tobacco juice spit on Cartagena’s leg.
They came across Cook two years later while asking for DNA samples from people who owned weapons like those used to kill Henderson and Cartagena. Cook refused to cooperate until one of the investigators contacted Cook’s father, an FBI agent. Andrew Cook told his father what he had done and John Cook gave investigators the details of his son’s confession.