SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — The federal judge weighing whether California can resume executing condemned prisoners toured San Quentin State Prison's new lethal injection facility Tuesday in what he called a fact-finding mission to help determine whether the state's revised procedures meet constitutional standards.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel halted the execution of murderer Michael A. Morales five years ago, citing concerns that the execution team was poorly trained, the converted gas chamber too cramped and ill-lit and the state's method of delivering the three-drug execution cocktail at risk of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.
Whether his concerns have been alleviated by the rewriting of the legal protocols guiding the execution process and the physical changes made to the prison venue where death sentences are carried out was not immediately apparent.
The judge asked corrections officials questions about lighting, drug handling and conditions for witnesses and for the inmate's last hours but gave no indication whether the answers allayed his earlier concerns.
Fogel said he hoped to have a decision about whether executions can proceed "as soon as possible" but set out a schedule for further hearings that will run at least through spring.
California has 718 prisoners on death row. Only seven have exhausted all appeals.