Cal­i­for­nia inches slowly to­ward re­sum­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment not used in over decade

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DON THOMP­SON

SACRA­MENTO, CALIF. | Cal­i­for­nia has long been what one ex­pert calls a “sym­bolic death penalty state,” one of 12 that has cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment on the books, but has not ex­e­cuted any­one in more than a decade.

Prod­ded by vot­ers and law­suits, the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state may now be eas­ing back to­ward al­low­ing ex­e­cu­tions, though ob­servers are split on how quickly they will re­sume, if at all.

Corrections of­fi­cials ex­pect to meet a Wed­nes­day dead­line to sub­mit re­vised lethal in­jec­tion rules to state reg­u­la­tors, try­ing again with tech­ni­cal changes af­ter the first at­tempt was re­jected in De­cem­ber.

The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court, mean­while, is ex­pected to rule by Au­gust on chal­lenges to a bal­lot ini­tia­tive nar­rowly ap­proved by vot­ers in Novem­ber that would speed up ex­e­cu­tions by re­duc­ing the time al­lowed for ap­peals.

Still, it is a far cry from the sit­u­a­tion in Arkansas, which car­ried out its first ex­e­cu­tion since 2005 last week af­ter try­ing to put eight in­mates to death this month in an un­prece­dented se­ries of dou­ble ex­e­cu­tions. Courts have blocked three of them. Le­gal rul­ings have put at least one other in doubt.

Cal­i­for­nia could come close to re­sum­ing ex­e­cu­tions in the next year, said law pro­fes­sor Robert Weis­berg, co-di­rec­tor of the Stan­ford Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Cen­ter, though oth­ers say too many vari­ables and chal­lenges re­main to make a pre­dic­tion.

Cal­i­for­nia has by far the na­tion’s largest death row with nearly 750 in­mates, about dou­ble that of No. 2 Florida.

The state’s pro­posed lethal in­jec­tion reg­u­la­tions are pat­terned af­ter a sin­gle-drug process that al­ready passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Weis­berg said.

Corrections of­fi­cials sub­mit­ted the reg­u­la­tions only af­ter they were forced to act by a judge’s rul­ing on be­half of crime vic­tims an­gered at the state’s three-year de­lay.

But the reg­u­la­tions re­plac­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s old three-drug method are likely to be ap­proved at some point, Mr. Weis­berg said.

Deb­o­rah Denno, a pro­fes­sor at Ford­ham Univer­sity School of Law and an ex­pert on lethal in­jec­tions, was among those who said re­cent re­vi­sions to the state’s pro­posed reg­u­la­tions still don’t cure un­der­ly­ing prob­lems that can lead to botched ex­e­cu­tions.

For in­stance, the pro­posed rules now give ex­e­cu­tion­ers 10 min­utes to ad­min­is­ter each round of lethal drugs. The first batch is sup­posed to kill, but if that ini­tial dose doesn’t work, ex­e­cu­tion­ers would ad­min­is­ter four more sim­i­lar doses, each with a 10-minute count­down clock to make sure the process doesn’t drag on for hours as crit­ics said was a pos­si­bil­ity un­der the orig­i­nal rules.

If the in­mate is still alive af­ter five mas­sive doses, “the San Quentin War­den shall stop the ex­e­cu­tion and sum­mon med­i­cal as­sis­tance for the in­mate.”

The reg­u­la­tions still call for let­ting the war­den at San Quentin State Prison pick from among four pow­er­ful bar­bi­tu­rates — amo­bar­bi­tal, pen­to­bar­bi­tal, sec­o­bar­bi­tal or thiopen­tal — de­pend­ing on which one is avail­able as man­u­fac­tur­ers try to limit the use of their drugs for ex­e­cu­tions. In­mates could also choose to die in the gas cham­ber.

The Berke­ley Law Death Penalty Clinic, which op­poses ex­e­cu­tions, says amo­bar­bi­tal and sec­o­bar­bi­tal have never been used in ex­e­cu­tions. The clinic said prob­lems re­main over how the drugs would be ob­tained and ad­min­is­tered.

Of­fi­cials in sev­eral other states with long-de­layed ex­e­cu­tions have said their ef­forts to carry out the death penalty have been thwarted by a lack of lethal drugs.

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