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Death Chamber Ready, If Calif. Moratorium Lifted

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Death Chamber Ready, If Calif. Moratorium Lifted

Law

Death Chamber Ready, If Calif. Moratorium Lifted

Death Chamber Ready, If Calif. Moratorium Lifted

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A federal judge in California is expected to rule Friday on whether to lift a moratorium on lethal injections. If he does, the state could execute its first inmate in nearly five years as early as next week. This week prison officials unveiled a new lethal injection facility.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A federal judge in California is expected to rule, later today, on whether to lift a moratorium on lethal injections. The judge put a stop to executions four years ago. There were concerns about the states death chamber and a lack of training for the execution team. To address those concerns, California has adopted new regulations and built a new execution facility.

And this week, state prison officials gave journalists a tour. Scott Shafer of member station KQED went along.

SCOTT SHAFER: It takes a chain full of thick metal keys to open all the doors leading into California's new Lethal Injection Facility at San Quentin Prison.

(Soundbite of keys)

The execution chamber is hardly plush or even comfortable. In fact, it's downright austere.�

Lieutenant SAM ROBINSON (San Quentin Prison): What you're looking at, Scott, is our Infusion Control Room.

SHAFER: Lieutenant Sam Robinson is the public information officer at San Quentin.�

Lt. ROBINSON: And it's actually where our execution team facilities infusing the inmate with a lethal cocktail to facilitate an execution.

SHAFER: On the wall of the Infusion Control Room are four holes, where I.V. lines will pass through into another room where condemned inmates will spend their final minutes of life.

Lt. ROBINSON: The drugs flow out of the infusion room into the lethal injection facility, into the inmate.

SHAFER: This execution chamber cost taxpayers $853,000. Its more than four times larger than the old one and it has the sterile feel of a hospital: white walls, linoleum floors, bright fluorescent lights.

The facility was built after a federal judge in San Jose put a temporary stop to lethal injections four-and-a-half years ago. Among other things, Judge Jeremy Fogel cited bad lighting and cramped quarters in the old death chamber.

Lt. Robinson says this gleaming new facility while stark - addresses the judges concerns.

Lt. ROBINSON: There's a primary witness area for our media witnesses and the 12 official witnesses. Theres a witnessing area for people related to the victim, and theres a witnessing area for people who are related to the inmate who's being executed.�

SHAFER: The federal judge also criticized poor training of the execution team, careless record keeping and a sloppy protocol. So last month the state also adopted 43 pages of new lethal injection regulations.�

But one thing that hasn't changed - the eerie mint-green gurney that inmates are strapped onto for execution. The same one used in 11 previous lethal injections was rolled into this new facility.�

To some it's hard to imagine an execution being humane. But California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton says the new lethal injection regulations were adopted after lots of public input.

Ms. TERRY THORNTON (Spokeswoman, California Department of Corrections): So it is something that people care about. And they took time to read the draft regulations and supply comment, and we incorporated many of those changes in this whole process.

SHAFER: But that doesn't satisfy Lance Lindsey, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a long time opponent of capital punishment. Lindsey suggests the state is rushing this next execution for political reasons.

Mr. LANCE LINDSEY (Executive director, Death Penalty Focus): We're not investing in real public safety solutions. Were investing in what basically is a political solution that serves no social purpose.

SHAFER: Californias Death Row has more than 700 people, including some of the most notorious criminals in recent history. Scott Peterson, who killed his pregnant wife Laci just before Christmas, 2002, is here. So is the serial killer known as the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez.

The next inmate scheduled to die, next week, is Albert Greenwood Brown. He raped and murdered a 15-year-old Riverside girl 30 years ago.

For NPR News Im Scott Shafer in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

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