California Execution Postponed Indefinitely

ByABC News
February 22, 2006, 6:39 AM

Feb. 22, 2006 — -- The state of California last night indefinitely postponed the execution of Michael Morales, who was sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell, after ongoing questions about the ethics of lethal injection.

The postponement was the second in one day. On Monday night, anesthesiologists withdrew from the execution because of their concerns over the method. An hour before Morales was to be strapped to a gurney in the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday night, officials called off the execution, saying they could not comply with a judge's order to have a medical provider administer the fatal dose of barbiturate.

The execution was expected to take place at San Quentin at 7:30 p.m. PT after a week of legal wrangling over the method -- and after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had denied him clemency.

In what death penalty experts said was an unprecedented move, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel last week ordered the state to modify California's execution procedures to ensure Morales, 46, did not suffer the extreme pain that some of the drugs could cause if he were still conscious.

Choosing among two options the judge had outlined, the state had initially planned to have two anesthesiologists present at the prison. But the physicians withdrew after an appeals court decision this week implied they might have "to personally intervene in the execution of Mr. Morales if any evidence of either pain or a return to consciousness arose." In their statement Monday, which was read by a prison spokesman, they said this "would clearly be medically unethical."

Fogel then ruled that the state could still proceed with the execution, but that it had to use barbiturates alone to put Morales to sleep -- and that the drugs had to be injected intravenously by a licensed state professional. But Vernon Crittendon, a spokesman for the prison, said the state could not find a medical professional to administer the injection.