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Change in Lethal Injections Ordered

The state must execute Michael Morales with sedatives or ensure he cannot feel deadly drugs, U.S. judge rules.

February 15, 2006|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

State authorities responded that they were unaware of any devices that were easily obtainable and effective in monitoring consciousness. However, they said, San Quentin State Prison Warden Steven Ornoski could monitor Morales inside the execution chamber.

It was not clear whether Ornoski's credentials met Fogel's call for a qualified individual with formal training in anesthesiology.

Fogel's ruling appeared to place Morales' fate in the hands of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is reviewing Morales' plea for clemency.

On Tuesday, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr urged Schwarzenegger to focus on the facts of the case in weighing whether to spare Morales' life, and not on the allegedly fake jurors' affidavits recently submitted in support of his bid for clemency.

The defense legal team, which Starr joined 20 days ago, has withdrawn the questionable affidavits generated by defense investigator Kathleen Culhane, who has been released from the case. It also has launched an investigation into the disputed documents.

"It would be profoundly unjust now," Starr said in a statement, "for the wrongdoing -- if there was any wrongdoing -- on the part of a single investigator in the clemency effort to compromise, much less jeopardize, the plea for mercy."

Morales, 46, of Stockton, was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of Terri Winchell, a 17-year-old Lodi high school student. Morales was sentenced to death in 1983.

Starr noted that the trial judge, Charles R. McGrath, has concluded that more recently uncovered evidence appears to undermine the basis of a capital murder charge against Morales.

Specifically, "Michael was condemned, wrongly, by the false testimony under oath," Starr said, "by a profoundly untrustworthy jailhouse informant and serial felon."

Prosecutors have argued that jurors did not rely on the informant's testimony when they unanimously recommended that Morales be executed.

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