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Death penalty faces more obstacles

November 6, 2012 | 12:15 pm


This post has been corrected; see below.

Fourteen men have a particular interest in how Californians vote today on Proposition 34, repealing the death penalty. They are the ones closest to the executioner's gurney.

The short list of death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals includes Albert G. Brown, the last man to actually have a death sentence scheduled. Brown was convicted of the 1980 rape and murder of a 15-year-old Riverside girl. He came within 24 hours of execution in September 2010, having his veins inspected for the injection and a last meal of steak and onion rings, before a judge halted his execution in order to review the state's procedures for lethal injection.

California has executed only 13 inmates since enacting the death penalty in 1978. An additional 83 have died of other causes and 75 have had their sentences reduced. Today there are 727 inmates sentenced to death, most housed in single cells on San Quentin's death row as they await the outcome of lengthy appeals.

Legal obstacles to the death penalty in California remain unresolved, even as others seek to force the state to resume executions. They include Michael Winchell, the brother of a woman raped and murdered 30 years ago. Winchell sought to force California to resume executions as quickly as possible. The California Supreme Court refused in August to hear the dispute.

Winchell argued that California could speed up executions if it switched to a single drug protocol, the kind used by several other states. The state's current protocol requires three drugs -- starting with sodium thiopental to anesthetize the prisoner.

Elsewhere, California is appealing a Marin County Superior Court's injunction in February prohibiting California corrections officials from executing inmates until new regulations governing lethal injection are developed and reviewed. And according to a recent filing in a Los Angeles County case, Gov. Jerry Brown has directed the corrections department to begin considering alternative execution methods, including a one-drug protocol.

[Correction:  This post was updated at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday to correct that the California Supreme Court in August refused to hear the Winchell appeal.]


Death penalty proposition leads in poll

Some death row inmates oppose repeal

Death row and politics

--Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: Death row inmate Albert G. Brown was California's last scheduled execution. A judge halted the execution in 2010 to permit review of the state's lethal injection process. Photo courtesy California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.