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California lethal injections on hold for another year

Lawyers for the state and for death row prisoners agree to report to a judge on new lethal injection procedures by Sept. 15, 2012.

November 04, 2011|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • A view of the gurney inside the new lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
A view of the gurney inside the new lethal injection chamber at San Quentin…

Attorneys for the state of California and death row prisoners have agreed to a timetable for reviewing new lethal injection procedures, effectively postponing any such executions for another year.

State attorneys representing prison authorities and lawyers for four of the 12 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and are eligible for death warrants filed papers Thursday with the San Francisco federal judge newly assigned to the complex and protracted case.

The papers set a Sept. 15, 2012, deadline for reporting to U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg any further issues that would require additional hearings before the judge can rule on whether the newly revised lethal injection procedures meet constitutional standards.

"It is fair to say it is unlikely that lethal injection executions would take place in 2012," said Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.

She attributed the latest delay in the case, which has kept executions on hold for six years, to personnel changes at San Quentin State Prison and the appointment of a new execution team.

Seeborg will eventually be asked to rule on a lawsuit, filed by attorneys for death row inmate Michael A. Morales, that challenged the three-drug lethal injection method used in executions at San Quentin State Prison.

Morales contended that the state had botched earlier executions by failing to fully anesthetize some of the 13 prisoners who have been put to death by the state since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Morales argued that if the first injection of a powerful barbiturate isn't given time to take effect, then the paralyzing agent that follows and the heart-stopping final drug can inflict excruciating pain on the inmate.

Morales won a reprieve from his scheduled February 2006 execution from U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who ordered revision of the lethal injection protocols to ensure that the executions don't inflict pain that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the 8th Amendment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation drafted changes to the methodology, and other state agencies approved them more than a year ago. But the court's review has been delayed by further litigation, a change in wardens at San Quentin and Fogel's departure for Washington last month to head the Federal Judicial Center.

Attorneys for the four death row prisoners involved in the suit didn't immediately return phone calls.

The litigation involves only the lethal injection procedures. The gas chamber is also available as a method of execution, but inmates have to volunteer for that. So far, no inmates who have exhausted their appeals have agreed to execution by gas.

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