CA attorney general says executions to be temporarily halted after Sept due to drug shortage

By Paul Elias, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

CA executions halted after Sept amid drug shortage

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s death penalty is facing another significant hiatus.

State officials said Monday they would run out of one of the three drugs used in California’s lethal injection process by the end of the month and were unsure when they would receive a new supply.

The shortage, however, was not expected to stop the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown, who is scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday in the state’s first execution in nearly five years.

Marin County Superior Court Judge Verna Adams refused Monday to block Brown’s execution after he argued in a lawsuit that California’s new death penalty regulations were improperly adopted.

“Mr. Brown cannot prove that he will suffer pain if he is executed under the current regulations,” Adams said.

A federal judge ruled similarly on Friday after Brown contended California’s lethal injection process put him at risk of suffering cruel and unusual punishment.

Brown’s attorneys have now turned to state and federal appeals courts in their bid to stop the execution of Brown, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old girl on her way home from school in 1980.

Meanwhile, the attorney general’s office said no more executions should be scheduled until the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can obtain more sodium thiopental.

In a court filing Saturday, lawyers in the office said the state had 7.5 grams of sodium thiopental on hand, but the expiration date for the batch is Oct. 1.

Hospira, the manufacturer of the drug, blamed the shortage on raw material supply issues that have lingered since spring. The company was promising availability in early 2011, although it broke previous assurances of deliveries this year.

Several other states have delayed executions because of the production problems.

The company also told prison officials across the country, “we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures.”

Lawyers in the California attorney general’s office said in August that execution dates would be aggressively pursued for four other inmates who, like Brown, had completed the federal and state appeals process. But that was before the drug shortage was disclosed in the court filing.

Already, prosecutors have canceled a planned Sept. 14 hearing to set an execution date for Michael Morales, who came within two hours of execution in February 2006 before prison officials canceled his lethal injection to comply with a judge’s order to overhaul the state’s capital punishment system.

Three other death row inmates — Kevin Cooper, David Raley and Mitchell Sims — may have also benefited from the shortage because they were on the short list of execution candidates.

Sodium thiopental would be the first drug administered to Brown, who is to receive two shots, each containing 1.5 grams of the sedative. If the warden determines Brown is still awake, he will receive two more shots, according to the state’s regulations. Once he’s unconsciousness, Brown is to be injected with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which should prove fatal.

Brown’s attorneys argue that the process puts him at risk of suffering extreme pain. They also argue the regulations were drafted improperly and ignored the many public comments warning about the perils of the three-drug cocktail.

California deputy attorney general Jay Goldman told Judge Adams the regulations were adopted legally after a lengthy process that included public input.


Associated Press Writer Terry Collins in San Rafael, Calif., contributed to this report.

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