The planned execution of a man convicted of raping and murdering a 17-year-old girl was delayed until Tuesday night after two anesthesiologists refused to participate because of ethical concerns.
With the execution scheduled for 12:01 a.m. (0801GMT) Tuesday, defense lawyers requested a stay from the federal judge who last week ordered San Quentin State Prison to have an anesthesiologist on hand to minimize Michael Angelo Morales' pain as he was put to death by lethal injection. A second anesthesiologist was retained as a backup.
Although U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel denied the motion, both anesthesiologists withdrew, citing ethical concerns raised by his ruling.
The exact wording of the judge's order was not immediately available, but the anesthesiologists issued a statement through the prison saying they were concerned about a requirement that they intervene in the event that Morales woke up or appeared to be in pain.
"Any such intervention would clearly be medically unethical," said the doctors, who have not been identified. "As a result, we have withdrawn from participation in this current process."
The American Medical Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the California Medical Association all opposed the anesthesiologists' participation as unethical and unprofessional.
Prison officials rescheduled the execution for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (0330GMT) and said they would employ a different technique: administering a fatal overdose of barbiturate in lieu of the three-drug cocktail typically used in lethal injections.
Morales' attorneys had argued that the three-part lethal injection cocktail used in California and 35 other states violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. They said a prisoner would feel excruciating pain from the last two chemicals if he were not fully sedated.
Fogel refused to derail the execution, but he gave prison officials two options: retain the doctors to ensure Morales would be properly anesthetized, or forgo the paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs and overdose him on a sedative. With the anesthesiologists withdrawing, prison officials said they would use the second option.
Prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon said the prison has until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday (0759 GMT Wednesday) to execute Morales. After that, the "death warrant" expires and officials would have to go back to the trial judge who imposed the death sentence in 1983 for another warrant.
Seeking another warrant could prove difficult for the state, however, since the original sentencing judge, Charles McGrath, joined Morales this month in asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency in the case.
McGrath said he no longer believed the credibility of a jailhouse informant whose testimony helped land Morales on death row.
Earlier Monday, Morales appeared to have exhausted his options for a reprieve after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his claim and the governor for the second time denied a request for clemency.
Morales was condemned for raping and murdering high school student Terri Winchell 25 years ago. He admitted to the crime, but in a petition for clemency that Schwarzenegger first turned down on Friday, Morales claimed that he killed the girl because he was high on PCP and alcohol, reports the AP.
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