February 15, 2006

California turns to medics for next execution

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California will comply with a
court order and have two anesthesiologists at an execution next
week to make sure the prisoner is unconscious before lethal
poisons are applied, officials said on Wednesday.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a court
filing the anesthesiologists would be present on February 21
when Michael Morales, 46, is set to be executed at San Quentin
State Prison north of San Francisco.

U.S. federal judge Jeremy Fogel has said he would stop the
execution unless prison officials either made a medical expert
available or altered the composition of lethal chemicals to
ensure they do not inflict unnecessary pain.

Attorneys for Morales, convicted in 1983 murder and rape of
a 17-year-old woman, argued that lethal injection was cruel and
unusual punishment barred by the Constitution.

The killer, whose team of lawyers includes Kenneth Starr,
who investigated President Bill Clinton, would be the third
inmate executed in California in as many months.

Fogel expressed concern that two of the three chemicals
used in California that should kill within a minute, sometimes
took several minutes before stopping the condemned person's

"It is unclear why some inmates ... have required second
doses of potassium chloride to stop promptly the beating of
their hearts," Fogel wrote.

California's filing to U.S. district court in San Jose said
both anesthesiologists had asked that their identities not be
made public.

In the United States, 38 states execute with lethal
injection, a procedure that has faced legal challenge in a
number of recent cases. To date, no court has found it cruel
and unusual.

Nebraska is the only state to rely on the electric chair,
but it has not been used since 1997, state corrections
officials there say. In 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled
that electrocution was cruel and unusual and ordered the use of
lethal injection instead.