California’s method of executing prisoners by lethal injection comes under scrutiny in federal court starting tomorrow, point by technical point: how the executioners are trained, how the toxic chemicals are mixed, even how much light there is in the mixing room, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The stakes are anything but technical: the immediate future of executions in California, and perhaps in the nation. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose will hear arguments by lawyers for the state and for a condemned murderer.
Guards, former wardens, execution observers, and medical experts will discuss how prisoners have been put to death by injection at San Quentin State Prison since 1996, how the state is proposing to change its procedures, and whether the changes will minimize the risk of a prisoner dying in agony. Courts in other states have heard challenges to lethal injection, the sole or preferred method of execution in 37 of the 38 death-penalty states. Judges have halted executions in Missouri, New Jersey, and Delaware until questions about those states’ procedures are resolved. Moratoriums are also in place in Illinois, South Dakota and New York. This week’s hearing, scheduled to last four days, may be the first in which disputes over the technology and application of lethal injection are fully aired without the time pressure of an impending execution.