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California revisits lethal injection procedures after years of halted executions




A guard stands at the entrance to the California State Prison at San Quentin in San Quentin, California.
A guard stands at the entrance to the California State Prison at San Quentin in San Quentin, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A guard stands at the entrance to the California State Prison at San Quentin in San Quentin, California.
A guard stands watch over condemned inmates on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Ben Margot/ AP Photo
A guard stands at the entrance to the California State Prison at San Quentin in San Quentin, California.
In this photo taken Tuesday Sept. 21, 2010, the death chamber of the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg


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California has over 700 inmates on death row, more than any state in the U.S. But despite the hundreds of prisoner sentenced to death, California hasn't executed anyone in over a decade.

All because of an investigation around the planned execution of Michael Morales in 2006. His scheduled lethal injection was halted when the state was unable to determine a lethal injection procedure that would guarantee a humane death. Since the Morales case, California has continued to pursue a revised method of execution, but to no avail. 

The Morales case put a national spotlight on the high number of botched executions as well as medical evidence pointing to inhumane results through the established protocol. The three injection method used since the 1980's has the potential to induce a drawn out, painful death, surmounting in what legally constitutes as torture. A handful of other states followed California's lead and have also halted executions. 

This Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is expected to release a new proposal for administering legal injections. The state will consider a single drug injection, but other the debate over the efficacy of such a method persists.  

Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Deborah Denno. She teaches law at Fordham University and specialized in death penalty policy.

Interview Highlights

How the common, three drug lethal injection procedure may have inhumane consequences:

The typical lethal injection process is a three drug protocol. The first drug is suppose to make the inmate unconscious. The second is suppose to paralyze that inmate. And the third drug is suppose to induce cardiac arrest.

If the inmate doesn't get enough of the sedative– the drug that's suppose to make them unconscious– and they're injected with the paralytic, it can be an intensely painful process. And the inmate won't show that pain because that inmate will be paralyzed. And then they'll be induced to have cardiac arrest, and that's excruciatingly painful.

California has eliminated those last two drugs but still, their process is terribly problematic.  

Why concerns remain even with the single injection method:

We know there's problems with the drugs that have been recommended. We know there's problems with the team– who is going to be implementing the process. And we know there are problems even with the training. Everything in this proposal, which I've looked at in great detail, is extremely vague. ... The parts that are most important such as where they're going to be getting the drugs aren't clear at all. 

Probably every lethal injection state is having a problem getting ahold of these drugs. And the California protocol does not mention where they're going to be getting these drugs. And the source of these drugs is critically important. 

*Quotes edited for clarity*

To hear the full interview with Deborah Denno, click on the on the blue Media Player above. 

 



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