Morales awaits May hearing on death penalty constitutionality
Both sides shocked by last-minute execution postponement
Michael Morales, Department of Corrections photo
By Laurie Isola, Bay City News Service
February 22, 2006
Condemned inmate Michael Morales, who was scheduled to be put
to death Tuesday night at San Quentin State Prison, was moved
back to his cell on death row Tuesday evening after his execution
indefinitely, according to a prison spokesman.
San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon said the state was unable
to find a licensed medical professional to administer the lethal
injection as required by a federal judge's order.
Morales was originally scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m.
Tuesday but his execution was moved to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday after
two anesthesiologists declined to participate because of ethical
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled
Tuesday that the execution could proceed Tuesday night, provided
the lethal chemical that was to be used be administered by a medical
professional licensed by the state to inject medications intravenously.
That requirement apparently spared Morales his life Tuesday night.
Crittendon said San Quentin Warden Steven Ornoski made the decision
to indefinitely postpone the execution at about 5:45 p.m.
"After lengthy discussions, the decision has been made that
the state cannot proceed with the execution under the conditions
set by the district court,'' Ornoski's statement read.
Crittendon said prison officials expect that an evidentiary hearing
will take place May 2 or 3 on the constitutionality of the state's
lethal injection process.
Crittendon said he had spoken with Morales about the postponement.
"He was quite relieved to find that he was not going to
be executed,'' he said.
However, the witnesses, who were to include family members of
Morales' victim, Terri Winchell, were upset by the news, according
to Crittendon. "They took this very hard,'' he said.
Morales, of Stockton, was convicted in 1983 of raping and murdering
17-year-old Lodi resident Winchell in 1981.
Meanwhile State Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-Sonoma/Marin, called
on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday to declare a statewide
moratorium on the death penalty.
Nation cited the withdrawal of participation for ethical reasons
Monday night of anesthesiologists from the execution of San Quentin
Prison inmate Michael Morales.
"Last month, there were medical procedural complications
surrounded (sic) the lethal
injection of Stanley Williams,'' Nation said. "We are
talking about the state-sanctioned taking of human life and until
we have answers to the serious questions that have been raised,
I believe it's irresponsible to continue.
"A declaration by the governor, until a non-partisan commission
as outlined in Assembly Bill 1421 (Koretz) can evaluate the validity
of the death penalty in California, is not only morally ethical
but sound public policy,'' Nation said in a statement.
Nation said the question regarding the Morales execution is not
Morales' innocence or guilt but whether or not the death penalty
is a humane form of punishment.
He said Schwarzenegger should examine capital punishment and
its "judicial, fiscal and moral impact.'' Nation is running
for Rep. Lynn Woolsey's seat in the House.
Those on both sides of the death penalty debate may have been
shocked by the last-minute postponement of condemned inmate Michael
Morales' execution. But those who make their living at San Quentin
State Prison took the delays in stride.
Last-minute reprieves and legal turnabouts are things for which
Prison Sgt. Eric Messick said, "We've dealt with this before.
Not the same issue, but we've had delays before."
He continued, "On Feb. 9, 2004, we had a stay of execution
in the hours just before the scheduled midnight execution of Kevin
Cooper, convicted of the 1983 hatchet murders of four people,
remains on death row.
Robert Alton Harris' 1992 execution was delayed by a series of
four stays of execution issued by individual judges. Harris was
scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. on the morning of April
21. Instead, the convicted murderer finally faced the gas chamber
just after 6 a.m.
"We were able to keep our security levels together and our
staffing levels where they needed to be without too much difficulty,"
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