|California's brand new execution chamber|
California unveiled a new method for executing condemned prisoners Friday, proposing a single-drug lethal injection protocol that could restart capital punishment after a 10-year hiatus.
The proposal came as a result of a lawsuit filed against the state by crime victims. A settlement of the suit, brought by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, required the state to devise a lethal injection method by this month.
Executions are not likely to resume immediately, however. Public vetting could take a year, and court challenges may follow. Voters next year also may see one or more ballot measures on the death penalty.
The single-drug protocol proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration would replace the former 3-chemical method, struck down by a federal judge in 2006 who said it could cause inhumane suffering if one of the drugs failed to work.
The new protocol would require the injection drug to be selected on a "case-by-case basis, taking into account changing factors such as the availability of a supply of chemical." The state would have the option of using 1 of 4 barbiturates: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital and thiopental.
Pro-death penalty forces had called for a single-drug protocol and saw the ability to substitute 1 drug for another as a bonus. Difficulty in obtaining drugs has led to the postponement of executions in other states.
The barbiturate is to be administered in a 7.5-gram dose, via 5 syringes, through an intravenous line. As in the past, if the 1st course of the drug does not kill the inmate within 10 minutes, a second course would begin.
The inmate's heart would be monitored by an electrocardiograph to determine death.
The proposed regulation allows for the warden to order as many as 4 rounds of drug infusions, delivered over 40 minutes. Only if an inmate is alive after that would the execution be stopped and medical assistance summoned.
As in the past, inmates may choose death by lethal gas instead of injection.
The proposed regulation estimates the cost of a single execution to be just under $187,000, with more than $97,000 of that expected to go to crowd control outside San Quentin State Prison, where executions take place.
The proposed protocol creates "a better flexibility, a better system of options," said Michael Rushford, who heads the foundation that filed the suit.
Rushford said the state's chosen path will delay implementation by a year or longer, and his group seeks to challenge that. He blamed Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, who personally oppose the death penalty but have said they would enforce it, for the delays.
"If we had a different governor and a different attorney general, these wouldn't be problems," Rushford said.
More than 30 states and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary method of carrying out executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that has been critical of the way capital punishment has been administered. 8 states have used a single-drug method for executions, while 6 others have announced plans to do so.
At least 16 death row inmates in California have exhausted their appeals and could be executed if the protocol is finally adopted. The inmates range in age from 49 to 78. One was condemned for crimes that took place 36 years ago.
Some death row inmates were stoic when told about the impending arrival of a new execution protocol.
"In the meantime, I have my life," Clifton Perry, 46, sentenced to death for the 1995 killing of a convenience store owner during a robbery, said in a recent interview.
With legal challenges to the new policy highly likely, he said, the bigger problem for him was continuing to find meaning in his current life.
The state has not executed anyone since 2006, when the federal judge found California's procedures violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed another method and remodeled its execution chamber, but a state appeals court said California had violated an administrative procedures law by failing to vet the new protocol properly. The state agency refused to immediately identify those who helped develop the new policy, seeking more time to respond to a request under California's public records law.
California has 749 inmates on death row, the most in the country. Since 1978, the state has executed 13 inmates, 66 have died from natural causes and 24 have committed suicide.
California currently condemns to death an average of 2 people a month. As a result, the mammoth building at San Quentin set aside for condemned men is at capacity and the state is funding an expansion of other parts of the prison.
The state's voters narrowly defeated a ballot measure in 2012 that would have abolished the death penalty. 8 states have rescinded capital punishment laws since 2000.
Death penalty opponents have proposed an initiative for the November 2016 ballot that would replace capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole. Legislative analysts this week said it would save California some $150 million a year, by reducing the costs of murder trials and death penalty appeals.
A competing measure, sponsored by law enforcement and victim groups, also will be circulated for signatures. That measure would propose changes to speed up executions.
Executions around the country have declined in recent years as prisons have been unable to obtain lethal injection drugs.
Manufacturers, pressed by death penalty opponents, have refused to sell the anesthetics to prisons. Compounding pharmacies are an alternative, but even they would be vulnerable to boycotts if their identities were disclosed. They also could have trouble procuring the necessary chemicals to make the drugs.
The corrections department will take public comment on the proposed execution method until Jan. 22, 2016. It plans to hold a 5-hour hearing that day in Sacramento as well.
Source: Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2015