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April 14, 2007

A (secret?) new death chamber in California

This AP story details the latest twist in the on-going saga over execution protocols in California.  Here are the highlights:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration last month quietly began building an elaborate new death chamber at San Quentin State Prison in an attempt to past muster with a federal judge who ordered a moratorium on the state's executions.

News that the administration authorized the facility ― which will have three separate viewing rooms, a holding cell and a large area for executioners to prepare deadly cocktails for lethal injections ― drew immediate criticism from Democratic lawmakers and budget analysts who said they were kept in the dark about the expenditure. The administration began building the facility in March after prison officials determined they could construct the chamber for $399,000 - just under the $400,000 limit that would have triggered a financial review by state lawmakers.

"We have not reached any judgment that the administration violated state rules, but we are trying to understand the full scope and plan the administration has" for the facility, said Dan Carson, criminal justice director for the state's non-partisan legislative analyst's office.  "Obviously this is very close to the $400,000 limit."  Carson and other analysts discovered the new facility last week on a scheduled tour of the Marin County prison.

This Los Angeles Times article has more on this fascinating (little? big?) story.

April 14, 2007 at 09:47 AM | Permalink

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SFGate has more.

That story lists a number of lawmakers who do think this is a big deal. The secrecy of the project is also perceived as a problem:

A Jan. 23 memo from corrections officials to the Department of Finance described the new construction project, saying the state had been directed by the judge to create a new chamber -- an assertion that appears to be untrue. The memo also notes the project's price tag would be $399,000 and therefore would not require legislative approval.

No one outside the administration knew about the construction until this week, when staffers with the Legislative Analyst's Office were on a routine tour of the prison and were shown the project, which is expected to be finished by early May.

Lawmakers questioned the price of the project.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, calling the secrecy of a project involving such a high-profile issue "insulting.''

"Why not $399,999.99?'' Leno asked facetiously. "The question is, was this price tag a coincidence?''

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said the cost was "suspicious,'' and said he would demand that corrections officials explain the project at a public hearing.

Perata noted that two of his aides were at San Quentin earlier this month and were not shown the new building. He said the revelation about a new death chamber could slow negotiations between the governor and lawmakers on other prison issues.

"He is asking us for the authority to build $10 billion in new prison beds,'' Perata said about the governor's proposal to address prison overcrowding. "But if we can't trust them on something like this, why should we trust them at all?"

Huffman said he was particularly angry because he recently held a meeting with Schwarzenegger's top corrections secretary, Jim Tilton, about a proposal to rebuild the entire Death Row at San Quentin and Tilton did not mention the new execution chamber.

While administration officials said in the memo initiating the project that they had been directed by the court to create a new execution chamber, there is no court order suggesting they do so. Fogel asked the administration to come up with proposed fixes, which he plans to review after they are submitted in May.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 14, 2007 2:39:47 PM

Reason no. 5408 why Judge Fogel has overreached. Federal courts should have their ability to review state death sentences on habeas and their ability to review execution procedures withdrawn completely. Collectively, they have been completely irresponsible.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 14, 2007 9:27:42 PM

If the people of CA. cannot see what a sneaky and pathetic....once "model" (Mr. Universe); "big-time movie Action Star", and now a most pathetic "Governor of CA., in action, but ONLY ACTING once again, not "acting on behalf of the STATE OF CALIFORNIA", nor its native folks such as myself and THREE generations before me, nor the best interests of those incarcerated for the most meniscule damn efforts, etc., not even trying REMOTELY to do what is the best for all concerned, I simply fold my hands and pray for all of you since I plan to LEAVE this state by 2008, my ONLY SON, just turned 21 a month ago and TRIED as an "adult" for "assualt w/a deadly weapon" and my son had NEVER before that horrible night been so much as one "fist fight" but under the influence of a lethal amt. of alcohol along w/a LOT of "pot" all day and night.....I've veered off too much....I pray that you people will never allow this "ACTOR", i.e., actor of a state official, be in office any more than he has been. If he is, PLEASE allow people who know what they are doing to do the job the right way and not the way "an - nold" has been trying to play the part. This is too far fetched for me and many I am sure. He needs to GO, GO, GO, and far, far away. How about back to Germany? No, I will never believe he is from Austria, more acting 'a - nold'. Seriously, let the government take over because building more prisons is the VERY LAST THING WE NEED. So many of the inmates right now could be out here and many I have met would be doing quite well, in my heart I KNOW IT, but NOT wasting away in prison w/much older mentors our KIDS do NOT NEED to have mentored or by "lifers" who have NOTHING to lose but perhaps they will feel vindicated by poisoning our children as they serve out their OUTLANDISH sententences which counties in CA. have branded them with, my son, just for an example, not even on probation, but one night just too drunk and made a horrible choice to strike another older teen and in this small town got hit with "attempted murder" which a jury found him "Not guilty" but nonetheless, in this small and SICKLY town of Alameda, CA., the only judge we had in 2004 was VERY CLOSE FRIENDS w/the VICTIM in this case and thus, an automatic "conflict of interest" began and it followed my son of 17 to Oakland, CA., and all through the entire court systems until they got their way (the FILTHY RICH FAMILY @ LEAST) and not to omit the Oakland Raiders which the family called upon for "monetary support" and they certainly did NOT need it, along w/"Victims of Violent Crimes" monetary helps, and then more than 3 yrs later, during the July 4th parade, the victim sat upon our Mayor's 'float' as they once again begged for even more monetary means, using the slogan, "give Cole a Chance Campaign" which I found to be entirely tasteless. NO, too much happens at the hands of family (families) who have the backing of the "town Judge" or the entire "police dept." or BOTH in this case and worse yet, onto another town to finish it off. In the meanwhile, I the Mother of one son, my son who made a bad decision when he felt he was about to be swung at w/a 40 oz. bottle of beer, had someone else's "folded scooter" in hand and swung without even thinking. He and I have never stopped suffering since July 13, 2003. My health has gone to hell and my son does not even know it. I gave up on all people, God forgive me.....as a result of all of this. I never thought the DEVIL (much like "a-nold") would be able to have so much on my son who made a horrible mistake while so intoxicated. You people need to take a good, close look at what and who is making the decisions before this gets too much more out of hand. Oh, just for the record, my son rec'd "2 strikes" for this one incident @ 17/4 mos, to the week. He had another yr. of H.S. left. I already had FOUR yrs of college and now I gave up since that day as well. I pray that GOD will lift me back up and let me help young people from my own early life experiences, before I pass on. You people who are so blood thirsty, so quick to judge, so damn midieval, you ALL need to re-evaluate your thinking, I know I do and I am far from the pits of hell than most of you. Thank GOD....

Posted by: Jody Ottervanger-Floyd | Apr 19, 2007 3:48:47 AM

I'm sorry......I am a single Mother, twice over, w/16 yrs between my two children and am now trying to finish my degree in college @ Cal St. I hope to finish this by the end of next year and in doing so I will be in a much better position to render services to those I can serve best while at the same time I shall be able to live in a much more comfortable scenario. I don't expect a lot, but a nice dog would do, a fireplace, and a good running vehicle along w/my teachings. God bless all of you.....Jody

Posted by: Jody Ottervanger-Floyd | Apr 19, 2007 3:58:58 AM

It is way beyond my bedtime but I just have to ask something.......how on earth did our "gov." ever get his dirty hands to prompt more dirty hands to build his rotten, new "death chamber" in CA.????? I cannot believe this happened. I don't care IF it fell below the 'cap' of $400,000, I believe is what I read two days ago, even so......how could anyone have let this happen when we both know that MANY people knew about it and now it pops up in newspapers as if it were a "top secret" mission which just leaked out? How very despicable, thanks for letting me vent just a bit before snoozing. Jody......

Posted by: Jody Ottervanger-Floyd | Apr 19, 2007 4:03:51 AM

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