What happened to California’s death penalty? There has not been an execution since 2006, when a federal judge ruled against the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld three-drug executions. It didn’t matter. Though as candidates Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — who both personally oppose capital punishment — promised to uphold the law, in real life they’ve let things slide. Fed up, two men related to murder victims have filed suit to push the state to carry out the law.
Kermit Alexander wants to see the law work on Tiequon Cox, convicted of killing the former football player’s mother, sister, and two nephews in 1984; Cox went to the wrong address for a $3,500 contract killing. Bradley Winchell is sick of waiting for the execution of Michael Morales, who raped, hammered, strangled, and stabbed to death his 17-year-old sister, Terri Winchell, in 1981. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang ruled in their favor Friday after Harris challenged them on the dubious grounds that crime victims and the general public “lack standing” to sue the state.
In April 2012, Brown directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop new rules that should pass court muster. What’s taking so long? Spokesman Jeffrey Callison answered that his department has been working on “a single-drug protocol” but “nationwide, there is a problem with access to execution drugs,” which “is complicating efforts.”
California switched to lethal injection to spare condemned inmates unnecessary pain. Even still, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel stayed Morales’ execution, perceiving a 0.001 percent chance the convicted killer might feel pain.
In states not headed by Hamlets, leaders have found ways to anticipate court sensibilities and keep faith with voters. Many adopted one-drug protocols. Death penalty foes responded by using their considerable muscle to bar importation and choke the supply of lethal-injection drugs. Flat-footed Sacramento stuck with the unused three-drug protocol for too long. While Brown’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was working on a one-drug rule, Texas executed 38 killers with pentobarbital. The next time you hear the cerebral Dao Gov argue that high-speed rail is doable, remember that he couldn’t pull off one legal procedure that didn’t daunt former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
If Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation chief Jeffrey Beard ever does issue a one-drug protocol, it very likely will sink like a stone. Inmate apologists will go after doctors’ licenses, shackle supply, and corral a friendly judge. Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represents Alexander and Winchell in the suit, believes that if Brown is serious, his team will propose a one-drug protocol, along with the option of a gas, such as carbon dioxide. Even the unscrupulous anti-death penalty lobby cannot isolate carbon dioxide.
In 2012, California voters rejected a ballot measure to get rid of capital punishment. Alexander and Winchell wouldn’t have to sue their government to enforce the law.
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