ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Lethal injection, the method of administering the death penalty that's used in 37 states, came under attack in two states today. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions after a preliminary autopsy revealed serious errors in a lethal injection earlier this week.
Angel Diaz died 30 minutes after the drugs entered his body. And in California, the federal judge ruled that lethal injection, at least that's currently carried out there, violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
From member station, KQED in San Francisco, Judy Campbell reports.
JUDY CAMPBELL: Federal District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel issued his decision today after extensive hearings into California's lethal injection procedure, even visiting the execution chamber at San Quentin prison. He concluded that California's method of executing inmates is broken.
Fogel was considering a very narrow question, that is whether the first of three drugs used in an execution, the drug meant to knock out the inmate, is effective. Administered properly, Judge Fogel wrote, the procedure should be painless. But he found many deficiencies, including an unreliable execution team.
One team leader was disciplined for smuggling illegal drugs. Fogel said the team members aren't properly trained in administering the drugs. Judge Fogel wrote that it's impossible to determine, with any certainty, whether inmates may have been conscious when painful, life-stopping drugs are administered. Sarah Tofte is with Human Rights Watch.
SARAH TOFTE: I think it's a really damning critique of California's lethal injection protocol. And at the time, sort of the state's callousness in the way that they approach to their responsibility as executioners. It's sort of unbelievable.
CAMBELL: The case was brought by death row inmate, Michael Morales, who argued that lethal injection can be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Doctors testified on his behalf that witnesses in several recent executions have observed body movements that shouldn't be visible if lethal injection is properly administered.
Judge Fogel said the method could be fixed, and told the state it has to make sweeping changes. He asked the governor and state prison officials to present a plan that would add enough safeguards for executions to resume.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement that he would review the protocol and would continue to defend the death penalty. The ruling is being closely watched by other states. About three-dozen states share California's lethal injection method.
For NPR News, I'm Judy Campbell.
SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.