San Francisco: California hasn`t executed anyone in more than five years and its death row population has risen, recently reaching 720 inmates — the largest in the country.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel imposed a de facto moratorium on lethal injection executions in California in 2006. His ruling came after he inspected San Quentin Prison`s death room and found the converted gas chamber to be so dim, cramped and antiquated that inmates were at risk of suffering cruel and unusual pain.
On Tuesday, the judge returns to the death chamber for the first time since putting the state`s executions on hold.
Prison officials, represented by lawyers from the state attorney general`s office, want to show the judge the prison`s new $900,000 death chamber and argue that the state is ready to immediately resume. They will also argue at the unusual federal court hearing at the prison that they have adopted new regulations and improved staff training to address the judge`s other reasons to shelve California`s executions.
Attorneys for two death row inmates who are challenging the legality of California`s lethal injections argue that the revised system is just as flawed as the execution process that Fogel ordered fixed five years ago.
Fogel is not expected to rule on Tuesday.
The judge called off the execution of convicted murderer Albert Greenwood Brown days before a scheduled Sept. 30 execution, ruling that he needed more time to determine if the state`s new death chamber and lethal injection process protected inmates from cruel and unusual punishment.
The state Attorney General`s office dropped its appeal of Fogel`s ruling after an adverse California Supreme Court ruling made it impossible to carry out Brown`s execution because the state`s entire stock of a drug needed for lethal injections expired.
Prison officials have since acquired a new stock of the drug, sodium thiopental, from a London supplier. The sole U.S. manufacturer of the anesthesia announced it would no longer make the drug.
The overseas supplier is not the subject of Tuesday`s hearing, but will likely be the target of new legal challenges to capital punishment in California and in the nearly three dozen states that use sodium thiopental in executions.
Attorneys for death row inmates and capital-punishment foes argue that buying sodium thiopental outside the United States is an unreliable process that puts inmates at risk of suffering cruel and unusual pain.