California officials have backed off a drive to resume executions this year, asking a federal judge to delay until at least January his review of revised lethal injection procedures, reports the Los Angeles Times. The delay means that the state will have gone at least six years without executing any condemned prisoners, who now number 713. The state requested more time because San Quentin State Prison’s new warden, Michael Martel, wants to recruit a new execution team to replace the one that was assembled and trained last year.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel expressed frustration that the state has taken so long to fix lethal injection procedures, which he concluded might have subjected inmates to intense pain in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. He made that ruling in 2006 after putting executions on hold 10 months earlier. “When the public looks at this and they say, ‘Well, why aren’t there any executions?’ all they know is that it’s taking five years to get to closure in this case,” Fogel said. The development comes on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to scrap construction of a new $356-million death row facility. California faces another potential roadblock from looming legal challenges to the state’s acquisition of sodium thiopental, the key execution drug, which is no longer made in the U.S. and has to be obtained from foreign producers.