A California man convicted of rape and murder 30 years ago has asked that his execution be stopped because the state can't guarantee it will be pain free.
And for the time being, possibly until early next year, Albert Greenwood Brown has won his appeals to block his execution. The issue could spread to other states with prisoners on death row.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, reviewing California's new execution procedures under orders from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled there was not enough time to verify their reliability in time to execute Brown this week.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger already had given Brown a delay of 24 hours because the federal court order authorizing his execution only took effect on Thursday. Brown was scheduled to die Wednesday. The California Supreme intervened and said the drugs to be used had expired and the execution could not go ahead this week.
Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit told Fogel to ask lawyers for both sides for briefs on whether Brown should be executed this week.
It would have been the first execution in the state in nearly five years. Fogel is the same judge to have effectively ordered them stopped because the state was using a sequence of three drugs, and the process had resulted in unnecessary pain and failure to immediately end the life of the condemned person.
Sounds a bit like the 1972 Supreme Court decision that had determined executions to be "cruel and unusual," though never meant so literally. It was later overturned.
The state of California rebuilt its death chamber after Fogel's ruling. Critics argued that some previous executions were botched because there wasn't enough light in the existing chamber and the administering of three drugs in sequence was mishandled.
Brown, 56, is not contesting that he raped and murdered 15-year-old Susan Jordan of Riverside in 1980.
Jordan's sister Karen, who was nine when Susan was murdered, condemned the appeal process in an email to the Riverside Press-Enterprise:
"The appeals process in California has proven to be nothing more than a never-ending war of attrition against justice and the rights of victims and their families," Karen Jordan Brown said in the statement.
"The distress that this process has brought upon the Jordan family is profound and unfathomable, but has only tempered our convictions in favor of capital punishment.
"We denounce all of those who defend and seek clemency for Susan's murderer, and hold them accountable for preventing closure for our family these past 28 years.
Some executions may have to be delayed in some of the other 35 states who use lethal injection because of a shortage of the drug or drugs needed and questions about whether what is available is reliable.
In some cases the drugs or drug cocktails used for executions are not allowed to be used to put pets down.