SAN JOSE, Calif. – Whether California's first execution in more than four years will occur next week remained an open question Tuesday, as a judge grappled with a demand from the state attorney general's office to resume lethal injections.
A hearing was held on the issue after a Riverside County judge last month set an execution date of Sept. 29 for Albert Greenwood Brown, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old girl on her way home from school in 1980.
The action surprised many because a federal judge halted executions in 2006 and ordered prison officials to overhaul lethal injection procedures. The state adopted new regulations on Aug. 29 but had not sought the judge's permission to restart executions.
On Tuesday, California deputy attorney general Michael Quinn told U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel the new regulations authorize the state to execute Brown next week.
Brown's attorney John Grele countered that the judge needed to review the new regulations and the state's contention it had improved its lethal injection procedure before executions can commence.
Fogel, who imposed the temporary moratorium in 2006, said he was concerned that he was left with so little time to decide such an important issue.
"There is no way any court can conduct an orderly review of constitutional claims in eight days," he said.
Nonetheless, the judge said he would rule by Friday.
Quinn left the court without commenting to reporters. Grele refused to speculate why prosecutors and the state attorney general's office are suddenly setting executions dates and pushing hard for the resumption of lethal injection.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown is the Democratic nominee for governor and is locked in a tight election battle with the Republican nominee Meg Whitman.
Whitman dismissed Brown's work supporting the death penalty as attorney general.
"None of this squares with Jerry Brown's record," she said.
Brown was a vocal opponent of the death penalty when he served as governor in the 1970s and '80s, once suggesting that banning capital punishment would elevate society to a "higher state of consciousness."
He vetoed the death penalty in 1977, and his chief justice appointee was removed from the bench in the 1980s for her constant overturning of death penalty convictions.
Brown has taken more moderate stances since he ran for attorney general in 2006 and vowed to carry out the laws of the state. His office has been fighting for the resumption of capital punishment and defends death penalty convictions before the state Supreme Court.
Prison officials provided a tour Tuesday to showcase recent upgrades at San Quentin, including separate eyewitness areas for the victim and inmate families, and a holding cell with a phone and flat-screen television.
Prison spokesman Lt. Sam Robinson said the two-year-old lethal injection facility is fully prepared to carry out the execution of convicted murderer Albert Greenwood Brown next Wednesday.
Prison officials have gone so far as to examine Albert Brown to ensure he has healthy enough veins for the insertion of tubes that will deliver the fatal drugs. He also received a death warrant on Aug. 31.
California has executed only 13 inmates since capital punishment resumed in the state in 1977, and its death row is by far the largest in the nation.
California attorneys say prison officials have constructed a new death chamber that is roomier and better lit than the previous facility, which Fogel found too cramped and dingy to legally carry out executions. Above all, prison officials said they have specially selected a well-trained staff to carry out the lethal injections, which require the proper handling of the three-drug cocktail used in the executions.
Albert Brown's lawyers are fighting to put off his execution. Defense lawyer David Senior has said he was concerned that the lethal injection team has been hastily selected with inadequate training.
State lawyers said the staff has been trained to conduct the executions without violating constitutional bans against inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.
Associated Press Writer Terry Collins contributed to this report from San Quentin.