Posted Feb. 22, 2006 – The recent flurry of challenges to the humaneness of lethal injection has pitted death-penalty opponents against victims who say courts are unfairly denying them justice.
On Tuesday, just an hour before convicted murderer Michael Morales was scheduled to die, California prison officials stepped in to stop it, saying they could not comply with a federal judge’s order that the fatal dose of drugs be injected by a medical care provider.
Morales' attorneys argued that the second drug of the lethal three-chemical cocktail injected into condemned inmates causes excruciating pain and, thus, violates the Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The delay marked the second time this month that a court interceded to postpone an execution because of challenges that the method is cruel.
On Feb. 1, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court’s conservatives, refusing to allow Missouri to execute inmate Michael Taylor, who was also scheduled to die by lethal injection.
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It was the second time in one day that Morales’s date with death had been postponed.
Morales, 46, was to die at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday at San Quentin Prison admitted that he murdered and raped 17-year-old Terri Winchell, said his own life was worth sparing because of his remorse and redemption on Death Row.
Two anesthesiologists, brought in to ensure that Morales did not suffer extreme pain, backed out after learning they would have to advise the executioner if the inmate woke up or appeared to suffer.
New Proposal With Conditions
Prison officials then rescheduled the execution for 7:30 p.m.(PT) Tuesday, hoping to finally put to rest the week of legal wrangling over the method being used. They submitted a new proposal to skip the usual paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs and kill him with an overdose of a sedative. The plan was approved by a judge – but with conditions.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered that the sedative be administered only by a doctor, nurse or other licensed medical professional.
“We were not able to find a licensed professional that was willing to inject medication intravenously, ending the life of a human being,” said San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon in explaining the unexpected delay.
For victims such as Terri Winchell, whose life was ended nearly 25 years ago, there is too much attention being afforded whether or not those committing heinous crimes must be made to suffer.
Outrage and Support
"Here our beautiful daughter lies murdered, and there they worry about the way this monster feels and if he'll feel any pain. We feel devastated and angry," Winchell's mother, Barbara Christian told reporters.. "We waited 25 years with expectancy, and now this?''
But legal experts say that while such sentiments are understandable, they deny the essence of the U.S. Constitution.
"We've been very disturbed at the state's attempt at a quick fix for a very serious problem -- that people are suffering during the executions," Natasha Minsker, death penalty policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California told reporters. "Now, both sides will have a chance to present their evidence."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said, "There is no compelling evidence that the jury's punishment is not appropriate in this case. All the reviewing courts have upheld the jury's punishment. Morales' claim that he is a changed man does not excuse the brutal murder and rape of Terri Winchell."
A federal judge will hold a hearing in May on the California's lethal injection process. Morales' execution cannot be rescheduled until after that.
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