Morales' lawyers petition court for further appeal
By Adam Martin, Bay City News Service
February 19, 2006
By Bay City News Service - An attorney for condemned inmate Michael
Morales said he has petitioned the federal 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals for an expanded hearing to review an appeal of Morales'
The court today denied Morales' two appeals, which he filed Friday
when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to grant him clemency.
Morales was sentenced to death for murdering Terri Winchell, 17,
of Lodi, in 1981 by trying to strangle her and then beating her
with a hammer and stabbing her. He was also convicted of raping
While he does not deny his guilt, Morales, through his appeals,
challenged California's lethal injection procedure and claimed
that a key prosecution witness lied at his 1983 trial.
In the lethal injection case, Morales appealed a ruling in which
a federal judge in San Jose said the execution can proceed so
long as the state provides a trained anesthesiologist to make
sure that Morales is unconscious after the first of three chemicals
is injected. Morales' brief argued that, even with that safeguard,
he would be at risk of pain, which would constitute cruel and
A three-judge panel wrote in a ruling today that "the district
court's orders adequately address Morales' concerns. The orders
provide specifically that an anesthesiologist will 'independently
verify, through direct observation and examination..., in a manner
comparable to that normally used in medical settings where a combination
of sedative and paralytic medications is administered, that [Morales]
in fact is unconscious before either pancuronium bromide or potassium
chloride is injected.'"
John Grele, the lawyer working on Morales' lethal injection appeal,
said today that he has filed a petition to have that ruling reviewed
by an expanded court of 15 appellate judges.
"We think the case has serious meritorious issues that the
full court needs to review. The court cannot adopt last-minute
'quick fixes' to resolve glaring deficiencies in California's
lethal injection procedures," Grele said today.
Grele said the court order to have an anesthesiologist on hand
did not necessarily guarantee that Morales would not suffer.
Specifically, Grele objected to language in today's ruling that
states, "we construe the order as clearly contemplating that
they have the authority to take 'all medically appropriate steps...'
to immediately place or return Morales into an unconscious state
or to otherwise alleviate the painful effects [of the lethal drugs]."
The three judges, Grele said, "are construing and attempting
to interpret vague language, without ordering the state to comply."
The court has not yet issued an official response, accepting
or denying Grele's petition. Spokesman Nathan Barankin was not
immediately available for comment.
Morales' other appeal, claiming that witness Bruce Samuelson
lied when he testified that Morales had confessed to him while
they were both in jail, was denied because the basic thrust of
the argument had been heard and denied previously, according to
Morales claimed that Samuelson's false testimony was the basis
for a lying-in-wait enhancement that caused him to be sentenced
The court, however, wrote that "Morales' application does
not rest on 'a new rule of constitutional law' that requires relief,
so [it] is not applicable."
Lawyers for the attorney general had previously claimed that
Samuelson's testimony was not instrumental to Morales' receiving
a death sentence because it was corroborated by other testimony
and Morales' own confession.
There is no word yet from Morales' attorney David Senior whether
he will petition for an expanded hearing to review that appeal.
After petitioning for the expanded appellate court hearing, Morales'
next and final option is to take his case to the U.S. Supreme
He may have grounds to do this because his objection to the execution
method is being treated as a civil rights issue.
Amnesty International, Death Penalty Focus and the American Civil
Liberties Union issued a joint statement Friday calling the modified
death penalty procedure "disturbing," because "for
the first time in the history of this country, a medical doctor
will be inside the execution chamber and another will be outside,
assisting the execution."
Morales' upcoming execution has garnered nation-wide attention.
Pepperdine University School of Law Dean Kenneth Star, the former
independent counsel whose investigation led to the impeachment
of former President Bill Clinton, worked on Morales' clemency
plea. He has said he joined the clemency team because he believes
Morales is remorseful and was sentenced to death on the basis
of false testimony.
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