Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Death penalty rules put on hold

Regulations not followed, judge will rule today

By Scott Smith
Record Staff Writer

October 31, 2007 6:00 AM

A Marin County Superior Court judge is expected to rule today that the state prison system did not follow its own procedures by failing to hold a public hearing when it changed the lethal injection protocol for carrying out the death penalty.

The anticipated ruling could further delay the execution of Stockton's Michael Angelo Morales, sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Lynn Winchell, also of Stockton.

Superior Court Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor issued the tentative ruling, which she is expected to finalize in a hearing today in a Marin courtroom. Morales' attorneys filed the civil suit in April 2006, which takes issue with the state's Administrative Procedures Act.

"We've seen the tent ruling, and we'll wait to see what the final ruling is before we draw any conclusions," said Morales' lead attorney, David Senior.

Senior filed the suit in Marin County, where San Quentin State Prison and the state's lethal injection chamber are located, arguing that under California law, the state has to publish any regulation changes and offer the public a chance to ask for a hearing.

Morales' execution was scheduled for Feb. 21, 2006, but his attorneys won a delay by convincing a federal judge the state's combination of three drugs could lead to a painful death, violating the constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorneys for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation later reworked the three-drug cocktail in an effort to ensure a quick and painless death, but Morales' attorneys said such changes had to undergo a public hearing process.

Taylor agreed in the tentative ruling, saying the state "was required to, but did not, comply with the Administrative Procedures Act when it adopted this regulation. ... The defendants were required to comply with the APA."

Contact reporter Scott Smith at (209) 546-8296 or

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