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Marin County judge nixes restart of death row executions

August 31, 2010 |  3:01 pm

A Marin County judge Tuesday scuttled efforts to resume capital punishment in California, saying a 2007 injunction against executions remained in force "unless and until" the court approves newly revised lethal injection procedures.

The order issued by Marin County Superior Court Judge Verna Adams followed the setting of an execution date of Sept. 29 for death row inmate Albert Greenwood Brown. A Riverside County judge on Monday issued a death warrant for Brown, who raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl in 1980.

Adams' ruling was made at a hearing in the cases of two other death row prisoners, Michael Morales of Stockton and Mitchell Sims of Los Angeles. Morales, Sims and Brown are among the few death row prisoners, from among the 706 condemned inmates in the state, who have exhausted all appeals and are cleared for execution once the practice resumes.

Executions have been on hold in California for nearly five years, since Morales's defense lawyers challenged the state's former lethal injection procedures in federal court, alleging they violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel agreed and ordered revisions to the three-drug lethal injection sequence to ensure that the inmate was fully anesthetized before being given the final fatal dose.

A task force named by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rewrote the execution procedures behind closed doors in 2007, but they were deemed illegal by Marin County Superior Court Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor because they had been adopted without public input. It was Taylor's injunction that Adams ruled was still in force.

--Carol J. Williams