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April 21, 2007

Schwarzenegger halts work on death chamber of secrets

Though not quite as intriguing as a Harry Potter novel, the plot continues to thicken in the on-going saga of California and the death penalty.  As detailed in this news story, work on new death chamber that the state was building (in secret) has now been halted.  Here are more details:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today halted construction of a new death chamber at San Quentin prison, the latest setback for authorities trying to resume executions after a 15-month hiatus triggered by a challenge to the state's procedures for lethal injections. The order came after legislators complained vociferously that they had not been consulted about the project, which apparently was conducted in secret.

"The governor has asked me to stop the project," James Tilton, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a midmorning call with a group of reporters. The governor "is very concerned about good communications with the Legislature. We should have done a better job of it."

Last week, it was revealed that state officials had begun quietly building a new death chamber. At the time, corrections officials said they had not consulted with the Legislature because the cost of the project would be only $399,000.  State law requires legislative approval of any project that costs $400,000 or more.  The tiny gap precipitated skepticism from lawmakers who indicated they thought the administration was engaged in an end-run around the Legislature. State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) scheduled a hearing for April 25 in Sacramento.  Today, Tilton and his chief assistant, Steve Kessler, acknowledged that the project had already cost $725,000.

Last December, a federal judge in San Jose ruled that California's application of its lethal injection death penalty procedures violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The legal challenge to the state's death penalty protocol has effectively halted executions since February, 2006.  U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel's ruling left the door open for the resumption of executions by lethal injection if the states come up with a revised procedure that the judge finds constitutionally acceptable.

April 21, 2007 at 12:31 AM | Permalink


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What else is to be expected from a state who's Supreme Court writes "Defendant in this case had a right to a jury trial of the prior conviction allegations, and the trial court denied him that right. Nevertheless, he has not shown a reasonable probability the error affected the result." [People v. Epps (2001) 25 Cal.4th 19.]

Harmless error! Like $400,000 does not equal $725,000 is harmless error.

Did anyone really think they could build it for $399,999?

Posted by: George | Apr 21, 2007 2:13:28 AM

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