California prisons ask for new death sentence procedures

Prison officials ask for new death sentence guidelines in California in possible step to resume implementation of death penalty

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

A group of prisoners in a prison in California

California prison officials on Tuesday filed proposed new guidelines for using lethal injection to kill condemned inmates, a step that could lead to a resumption of the death penalty in a state that has not conducted an execution since 2006.

The most populous US state, a Democratic stronghold where public support for the death penalty has been slipping for years, stopped executing prisoners after Clarence Ray Allen was put to death nearly 10 years ago for three murders in Fresno.

The state put executions on hold partly because of legal issues, including a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections.

But politicians in California also have not had the stomach to force the issue in a state where many top officeholders, including the attorney general, oppose the death penalty. A slim majority of voters, about 56 percent, support it, the lowest number in years, according to a Field Poll last year.

Earlier this year, the state said it would not appeal a court order halting executions until a single-drug protocol could be developed.

On Tuesday, the proposed single-drug protocol, details of which were not released, were filed with the state Office of Administrative Law for review, said Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. They will become public next week, Callison said.

California Governor Jerry Brown has did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters about whether he would push to begin conducting executions again.

The proposed new protocol will be open to input from the public starting next week, and it could take up to a year for the rules to be finalized, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department.

Since Allen's execution in January of 2006, California juries have sentenced 181 people to death, according to statistics provided by the corrections department.

But California did not rush to execute prisoners even before legal questions arose about the three-drug cocktail, which has led to botched executions in Oklahoma and other states.

Since 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated, California has executed only 13 people. Sixty-nine inmates have died of natural causes while on death row and 24 have committed suicide. Still awaiting execution are 747 prisoners.