US judge rules lethal injection execution might be too cruel
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge ordered California to reformulate the lethal-injection method used to kill condemned inmates, saying the original might be unconstitutionally painful.
US District Judge Jeremy Fogel refused to stop the February 21 execution of Michael Morales in San Quentin State Prison, but ruled it can proceed only if a quick-killing drug cocktail were used or if a medical expert were supervising the current three-step protocol.
«Having given the matter much thought, the court concludes it is within its equitable powers to fashion a remedy that preserves both the state’s interest in proceeding with the plaintiff’s execution and plaintiff’s constitutional right not to be subject to an undue risk of extreme pain,» Fogel wrote in his ruling.
Fogel ordered the changes due to concerns that the state’s practice of giving condemned inmates a sedative and paralyzing agent prior to a heart-stopping drug overdose might have them dying in muted agony.
Morales was sentenced to death after being convicted of the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in 1981.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that the drugs administered after the sedative would be «excruciatingly painful» to anyone awake enough to feel them, the judge wrote.
However, undisputed testimony from a medical expert indicated «virtually all persons» given the executioner’s sedative dose would be knocked out, and probably dead, less than 60 seconds of the drug being administered.
Fogel gave prison officials until the end of Thursday to pick one of his remedies or face his postponement of the execution and a hearing into the matter in May.
To date, no US court has ruled execution by lethal injection unconstitutional, according to Fogel, whose courtroom is in San Jose, in the so-called high-tech Silicon Valley.
The eighth amendment of the US Constitution prohibits punishments «incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,» the judge wrote.
«If you are looking for a nice way of putting somebody to death, you are never going to find it,» said Daniel Vasquez, the former San Quentin warden who helped craft the original lethal-injection procedure.
«There is no such thing as a nice way of killing somebody,» he said in a radio news interview.