California News

Lawsuit seeks drug change to speed execution of death-row inmate

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The killer of a woman brutally murdered more than 30 years ago still sits on death row. The victim's brother is suing to resume executions in California. The lawsuit seeks to end the legal logjam that has put a hold on executions at San Quentin State Prison for six years. The delays involve questions over the use of lethal injections.

More than 700 inmates sit on California's death row. Not one has been executed in six years. Former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian are on a team of lawyers seeking to help the families of murdered victims.

"I get sick to my stomach," said Bradley Winchell, the victim's brother. "I am asking this court to set it right."

Bradley Winchell says he's been waiting more than three decades for closure. His sister Terri was brutally murdered and raped in 1981 in a Lodi vineyard.

Her convicted killer, Michael Morales, sits on San Quentin's death row and is one of 14 inmates who have exhausted all their appeals.

But just as Morales was about to be executed in 2006, a judge granted a reprieve, allowing Morales's lawsuit to move forward after he claimed the three-drug lethal injection method was cruel and unusual punishment.

Winchell just filed a lawsuit of his own, saying he's waited long enough. He wants the state to resume executions by moving to a one-drug process currently used in other states.

"I consider 31 years excessive delay, injury to not only myself but my family," said Winchell.

California's death penalty has been criticized for many years. Delays often result in decades passing before an execution is carried out.

"It's a sad state of affairs when those officials with the duty to execute the law care so little about the rights of victims of crime," said Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Opponents of California's death penalty have been trying to get rid of it for years, citing a report that found it costs taxpayers $184 million per year to operate. They say if Winchell and his attorneys want to change the three-drug protocol, they can formally ask the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"They need to put that into procedure, they need to submit it for public comment, they need to have a hearing and do exactly what they did when they set up the three-drug," said Christine Thomas, Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The Corrections Dept. can't comment because it hasn't been served with the lawsuit, but Winchell's attorneys say they've been unsuccessful in trying to get the agency use the one-drug method.

Winchell thinks the courts are the only way to let his sister rest in peace.

"This will add a little bit of closure if we do get the executions back on track," said Winchell.

Five states in as many years abolished the death penalty. Next week, opponents of the death penalty are expected to announce that they've qualified an initiative to do the same and let California voters decide.

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