The supreme court in the southern US state of Georgia on Monday gave a temporary reprieve to a man sentenced to death for murder just two hours ahead of his scheduled execution.
Warren Hill was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. local time for killing a fellow inmate.
The 52-year-old African American, who has spent the last 21 years on death row, reportedly has an IQ of 70, which puts him below the threshold for mental disability.
The US Supreme Court ruled against the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities in 2002, saying the disability “would run the risk of a wrongful execution.” However, the Court left each state with the authority to determine what constitutes mental disability.
Hill was to be the first person in Georgia to be put to death using a single drug, pentobarbital, instead of the previously standard three-drug cocktail.
The state supreme court ruled unanimously that a lower court erred in determining that a change in execution protocol was legal under Georgia law.
The court however must still offer its own ruling on whether the new execution method is legal, which could take weeks.
The US Supreme Court will hold off on deciding whether to hear an appeal on the controversial case now that the execution has been postponed, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The case highlights questions over the severity of Georgia’s criteria to define who is mental handicapped.
While Georgia requires proof of mental disability “beyond a reasonable doubt,” all 49 other states consider “a preponderance of evidence” enough proof.