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Judge Tours California's Rebuilt Death Chamber

Publication Date: 
February 09, 2011
Source: 
Los Angeles Times
Author: 
Carol J. Williams

Lecturer and U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel took a tour on Tuesday February 8th of the newly built execution facilities at San Quentin State Prison. Carol J. Williams of the Los Angeles Times reports::

U.S. judge is reviewing the state's revised lethal injection procedures and facilities, five years in the making, to determine whether executions can resume. But other legal challenges could get in the way.

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New legal challenges threaten to further delay California's effort to resume executions despite five years of costly reforms and reconstruction to meet a federal judge's concerns that previous procedures might have inflicted cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel on Tuesday toured San Quentin State Prison's new $900,000 execution facility, questioning state corrections authorities about the death penalty machinery and methods revised to address the concerns that led him to halt executions in 2006.

But Fogel's earlier worries about poorly trained executioners and cramped, ill-lighted conditions in the converted gas chamber where lethal injections took place may now be overshadowed by developments in other cases.

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Asked after the formal fact-finding tour whether the suit against the FDA would factor into his decision, Fogel said, "It's not before me" in the case involving the execution of killer Michael A. Morales that was suspended in February 2006.

"The source of the state's sodium thiopental is something the California Supreme Court is going to be asked to weigh in on, but it is not an issue in the Morales case at this point," Fogel said.

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The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation scheduled Brown's execution for Sept. 30 last year, after the new legal guidelines nearly four years in the making were approved by the state in August. But Fogel ruled that the protocols needed to be reviewed for constitutional conformity and that his work wouldn't be driven by the Oct. 1 expiration date on the state's last few grams of U.S.-made sodium thiopental.

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Fogel said he hoped to make a decision about whether executions can proceed "as soon as possible" but set out a schedule for further hearings that will run at least through spring.