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September 22, 2010

Latest California efforts to get back into the execution business

Ba-deathchamber0_SFCG1285122537 As detailed in this front-page article in today's San Francisco Chronicle, the state with the nation's largest death row may be getting ever closer to resuming executions after a nearly five-year hiatus prompted by concerns about the state's lethal injection protocol.  The article is headlined "San Quentin gives glimpse of new injection space," and here are excerpts:

Execution is going to be a much more visible and sterile experience at San Quentin State Prison from now on. Prison officials offered the first glimpse of their new lethal injection center Tuesday -- one week ahead of a planned execution few think will actually be carried out -- and the differences between this stark-white place and the old apple-green gas chamber are marked.

The spacious $853,000 center has three brightly lit witness viewing rooms, and each gives a considerably better view than the cramped gas chamber's lone, poorly illuminated viewing room.  In particular, the main observation room for 12 state officials and 17 media witnesses offers four wide, flat windows looking straight into a roomy, open chamber where the lethal injection gurney sits.  This makes every angle of the execution visible -- unlike the truncated, partially blocked sightlines of the old center.

On the north side of this main witness room is a smaller, seven-seat room for survivors and friends of the condemned inmate's victims.  On the south side is an identical room with seven chairs for relatives and friends of the prisoner.  Each of those rooms has two wide windows providing unimpeded views.

But it is unclear whether there will be any witnesses at 12:01 a.m. next Wednesday to see rapist-murderer Albert Greenwood Brown, 56, put to death as planned.  That's because the execution itself is in doubt.

Capital punishment in California has been blocked since 2006 by two state lawsuits contending improper procedures in planning injections and one federal suit contending that lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment.  Though an injunction was lifted in one of the state suits Monday and U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose said Tuesday he will issue a ruling in the federal suit on Friday, there remain several avenues for appeal before an execution can take place.

When he halted all executions in February 2006, Fogel ruled that the state's procedures were so badly flawed, with poorly trained staff working with unclear instructions and little monitoring in a dimly lit chamber, they posed a risk of leaving the dying inmate conscious and in pain at levels that violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In response, state officials revised the procedures and built the new death chamber in 2008.  "I don't know how they could simply dismiss the current legal challenges," said Lance Lindsey, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment.  "There is no reason to rush."

Nonetheless, the state attorney general's office issued a death warrant for Brown's execution last month, and the prison has been making plans ever since for its first execution in four years. Brown raped and strangled a 15-year-old Riverside girl in 1980.  "We are fully prepared to carry out an execution on Sept. 29," acting Warden Vincent Cullen said Tuesday. "This facility is fully operational."...

The new injection chamber's views leave little unseen. The main difference is that unlike in the gas chamber, reporters won't be able to directly watch or hear the reactions of witnesses from the victim and inmate rooms to either side.  One major improvement in the new facility is that it has been wired with speakers.  The condemned prisoner will be able to broadcast his last words by a wireless microphone held to his lips by one of the executioners.

The old gas chamber is still ready for use if needed, the warden said.  But with the official method of execution in California being lethal injection, a prisoner would have to make a special request for gas instead.  Like the new injection room, the old gas chamber was entirely built by inmates.

September 22, 2010 at 10:03 AM | Permalink


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It makes my stomach turn just reading about the glamorization of a government facility devoted solely to killing its citizens. Simply disgusting and disturbing.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 22, 2010 11:45:16 AM

Funny the numerous institutions devoted to locking citizens up until they die of old age for less heinous crimes doesn't elicit the same reaction.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 22, 2010 12:11:30 PM

We should all be so proud of such a facility! It's Vengence Materialized! In order for true revenge to occur, lives must be sacrificed and this only brings us closer to exacting our desert which make a proud nation. My only wish is that it weren't so sterile...let it stand for what it is; a killing machine and chamber. Vengence Lives!

Posted by: neanderthal | Sep 22, 2010 12:24:58 PM

This also seems far removed from the challenges. As if making the room nice enough will somehow magically remove the opposition.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 22, 2010 1:04:18 PM

The first stay in 2006 was because the old death chamber was just a modified gas chamber. It was cramped, poorly lit and was not conducive to communication between staff members. The state is just complying with the judge's order.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 22, 2010 1:40:58 PM

Educational and fun architecture for an addition to a house. Parents could put their children in the chamber for a time out and the family could gloat in the viewing rooms. When not in use, the viewing room windows could have HD video of real executions airing at all times as a warning, sometimes live. Siblings would have a blast tattle-telling on each other. On occasion, by family vote, a parent might have to sit in the chamber or lay on the death gurney, which makes it unlikely the parent(s) would add this exciting modern addition to their homes.

Posted by: George | Sep 22, 2010 6:22:14 PM

MikeinCT, I never said it didn't.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 23, 2010 11:21:07 AM

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