February 21, 2006

Court OKs execution of California man after delay

By Carolyn Abate

SAN QUENTIN, California (Reuters) - A U.S. court approved
the execution of a California man on Tuesday after prison
authorities delayed it for at least 15 hours because two
court-appointed anesthesiologists walked off the job over
ethical concerns.

Michael Morales, whose attorney recruited former Whitewater
prosecutor Kenneth Starr to back his bid for clemency, was now
scheduled to die at 7:30 p.m. PST (0330 GMT on Wednesday) for
the 1981 rape and murder of an 17-year-old girl, said San
Quentin State prison spokesman Lt. Vernell Crittendon.

The delay in the execution happened after the doctors
refused to be present to give the court-required certification
that Morales, 46, was in fact unconscious before a lethal
injection was given, thus minimizing the pain.

"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.


Without the doctors present, the state sought court
approval to execute Morales with a single dose of sodium
pentothal instead of a combination of drugs.

A U.S. District Court approved that plan and authorities
were discussing it as well as other options, according to
Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for California Attorney General
Bill Lockyer.

Lawyers for Morales said they would appeal the District
Court's decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"It's coming shortly," said attorney Ben Weston.

Defense attorneys claimed last week that the use of the
lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment, barred by
the Constitution.

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 that no unnecessary pain
was 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.

Dr. Priscilla Ray, chairwoman of the American Medical
Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, last week
condemned the ruling requiring the anesthesiologists presence.

"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.

The scrutiny began when Morales' long-time attorney, David
Senior, recruited former special prosecutor Starr to help in
the appeal process. Starr is now 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 withdrew the documents but pressed the clemency

Schwarzenegger denied the request on Friday.

Morales would be the 14th person to be put to death in
California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.