May 16, 2007 -- Here's a look inside California's death chamber of the future. (Click here for a virtual tour of California's current and future execution chambers.)
The state is in the midst of rebuilding its San Quentin prison execution chamber, which was built the year Amelia Earhart disappeared, in the midst of a growing national debate about the humanity of the popular three-drug cocktail death by lethal injection.
That debate reached a crescendo last December when a Florida inmate's botched execution led to what witnesses described as an excruciating, slow death and a subsequent moratorium in that state on executions.
California's existing lethal injection facility at San Quentin prison -- a cylindrical windowed room -- was built as a gas chamber in 1937, Seth Unger, a state Department of Corrections spokesman, told ABC News' Law & Justice Unit.
The chilling, virtual tour designed by the California Department of Corrections is part of a report that state corrections officials released this week. They're trying to meet the requirements that a federal judge set forth last year when he halted all California executions until the state improved the lethal injection procedure.
The state proposes to complete construction on a new, state-of-the-art lethal injection chamber that would make it easier for more people to be in the chamber monitoring the inmate during the execution. The proposal would also expand and retrain a staff of corrections officer volunteers trained to carry out the executions.
But California's new plan said the state would stick with a three-drug cocktail, despite critics' charges that, when misadministered, it has led to painful, belabored inmate deaths in the past. Thirty five other states continue to use the three-drug cocktail, the Los Angeles Times reported this week.
"The new facility is designed to allow the warden and other staff members to be in the room to monitor the inmate and to ensure the procedure is done correctly,'' said Unger. "We're going from a 49-square-foot chamber to 200 square feet. The infusion team -- the people administering the chemicals -- will still be in the control room and the staff who are in the chamber will be monitoring the inmates.''
But Ginger Anders, one of Morales' attorneys, criticized the proposal.
"The protocol still fails to conform to the standards for euthanasia of animals established by the American Veterinary Medical Association and does not meaningfully address the problems described by Judge Fogel," she told the Los Angeles Times this week.
For now, the existing execution chamber will remain vacant.
Fogel is expected to review the state's proposal and either green light it in its current form or hold a hearing to recommend further modifications. Then the state legislature has to approve the final 20 percent of construction on the new facility.
If Fogel approves a plan to renovate the facility, and the state legislature signs off on it, California would resume its mandate to execute some more of the 666 inmates currently on the state's death row, Unger said.