Federal courts may need to stop executions in California to examine whether the state’s method of lethal injections poses an unconstitutional risk of agonizing death, a federal judge said Thursday. The San Francisco Chrnoicle reports that U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel said at a hearing in San Jose that he was considering staying the scheduled Feb. 21 execution of condemned murderer Michael Morales so he can hear testimony and take evidence on whether the way California executes people constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Recent observations by witnesses and officials at San Quentin State Prison’s death chamber raise the possibility that the injection of three deadly chemicals is not as pain-free in reality as it is in theory, Fogel told lawyers for the state and Morales. He cited witness accounts, newly obtained by Morales’ lawyers, that at least three executed inmates — Stanley Tookie Williams, Darrell Rich and Stephen Anderson — appeared to be breathing for longer than a minute after receiving a powerful sedative, the first of the three drugs. At the most recent execution, Jan. 13, Clarence Ray Allen was given a second dose of a heart-stopping chemical before he was pronounced dead.