Schwarzenegger denies amnesty for killer Michael Morales

Convicted killer Michael Morales was set to die by lethal injection early Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a stay and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger again denied his request for clemency. Justice Anthony Kennedy reviewed the case, then sent it to the full court, which denied Morales' final appeal, according to court spokesman Ed Turner.

"The court entered orders denying the request for stays of execution," he said. The Supreme Court was the only legal option left for Morales, 46, who is scheduled to die from lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday (0801 GMT Tuesday) at San Quentin State Prison for killing teenager Terri Winchell. He would become the 14th prisoner to be executed since California voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978, and the state's third execution in just over two months.

With his execution just hours away, one of Morales' attorneys, Kenneth Starr, pleaded for Schwarzenegger to grant clemency. Schwarzenegger has already denied clemency to Morales, and it is not unusual for inmates to ask again as their execution looms. Starr, as in his first petition for clemency, noted that the trial judge in Morales' case had urged Schwarzenegger to show mercy.

Starr said that the 13 times in which that happened in California 's history, the presiding governor granted a reprieve. "Overriding such opinions," Starr wrote, "is not only tantamount to thumbing one's nose at the well-reasoned decision of the trial judge, it shows what will reasonably be viewed as disrespect for our system of government and our respective roles in that great and enduring system."

Spokesman Vernell Crittendon said San Quentin guards "locked down" the prison Monday afternoon, meaning its 5,000 inmates could only leave their cells for medical treatment. Morales, he added, "is in relatively good spirits." "We're continuing to gear up for our shortly after-midnight execution," Crittendon said. "He was laughing and joking with loved ones over the telephone."

Condemned for torturing, raping and murdering the 17-year-old high school student 25 years ago, Morales appealed Monday to the justices to block his looming execution, claiming that the testimony of an inmate used in his conviction is false, and that California's three-drug death cocktail, and the way it is administered, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Morales and his attorneys complained that the prisoner might feel too much pain if the sedative he is given does not make him unconscious before a paralyzing agent and the final heart-stopping drugs begin coursing through his veins.

The Supreme Court has never directly addressed whether death sentences carried out by lethal injection are cruel and unusual punishment. The justices have upheld executions in general despite the pain they might cause inmates, but have left unsettled whether alleged pain in lethal injections is unconstitutionally excessive and can be avoided, reports the AP.


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