California execution delayed after doctors walk out
By Carolyn Abate
SAN QUENTIN, California (Reuters) – The execution of a
California man was delayed for at least 15 hours on Tuesday
after two court-appointed anesthesiologists walked off the job
over ethical concerns.
Michael Morales, whose attorney had recruited former
Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr to back his bid for
clemency, had been scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. PST (0801
GMT) for the rape and murder of an 17-year-old girl in 1981.
The execution could not take place after the doctors
refused to be present to give the court-required certification
that Morales, 46, was in fact unconscious before the lethal
injection was given, thus minimizing the pain.
San Quentin State prison spokesman Lt. Vernell Crittendon
said the execution was rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. PST on Tuesday
(0330 GMT on Wednesday).
Without the doctors present, the state said it would
execute Morales with a single dose of sodium pentothal instead
of a combination of drugs.
“While we contemplated a positive role that might enable us
to verify a humane execution protocol for Mr. Morales, what is
being asked of us now is ethically unacceptable,” the doctors
said in a statement read by Crittendon.
Defense attorneys had claimed last week that the use of the
lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment, barred by
This prompted a judge to order prison officials to either
alter the composition of the lethal chemicals used or make
medical experts available to ensure unnecessary pain was not
inflicted during the execution.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel had expressed concern that
two of the three chemicals used in California, which should
kill within a minute, sometimes took several minutes before
stopping the condemned person’s heart. The state then agreed to
provide an anesthesiologist to attend the execution.
In a statement last week, Dr. Priscilla Ray, chairwoman of
the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and
Judicial Affairs, condemned the ruling that required the
“The use of a physician’s clinical skill and judgment for
purposes other than promoting an individual’s health and
welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine —
first do no harm,” she said. “Requiring physicians to be
involved in executions violates their oath to protect lives.”
Two last-minute appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court for a
stay of execution failed late on Monday.
The weeks leading up to Morales’ date for execution drew
considerable public attention due to allegations of forged
documents in a clemency petition filed by the defense team, and
a federal judge’s ruling that required doctors be on hand to
make sure the execution was properly administered.
The scrutiny began when Morales’ long-time attorney, David
Senior, recruited former Whitewater prosecutor Starr to help in
the appeal process. Starr is currently the dean of Pepperdine
University Law School.
Even the judge who handed down the death sentence wrote a
letter supporting the clemency bid.
Days after they filed a request for clemency with Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, San Joaquin County prosecutors accused
Starr and Senior of submitting forged documents. The sworn
statements of six jurors supporting the clemency bid and
another statement from a prosecution witness recanting her
testimony were proved to be forgeries by the prosecuting team.
Senior and Starr said they did not conduct the interviews
that led to the questionable documents but relied on another
attorney. They quickly withdrew the documents but pressed the
Schwarzenegger denied the request on Friday.
Morales is the 14th person to be put to death in California
since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.