SAN FRANCISCO – California's death penalty is again in legal limbo.
Prison officials called off the planned Thursday night execution of Albert Greenwood Brown after a state Supreme Court ruling made it impossible for the lethal injection to occur any earlier than Friday. But by then, the state's entire supply of a drug used during lethal injections would have expired.
The last execution in California occurred in January 2006.
Now, the question of whether California's lethal injection process is constitutional is back in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who blocked the execution in a Monday order. Fogel said he did so because he wanted more than a few days to consider the legality of California's capital punishment system.
Between the shortage of the drug sodium thiopental and Fogel's order, it's clear no execution will take place in 2010. The only company in the country that makes the drug said the earliest it can ship a new supply is early next year.
Brown was sentenced to death in 1982 for raping and killing 15-year-old Susan Jordan. Brown then taunted Jordan's mother with a phone call saying she will never see her daughter again.
"The appeals process in California has proven to be nothing more than a never-ending war of attrition against justice and the rights of victims and their families," said Karen Jordan Brown, the victim's sister. "The distress that this process has brought upon the Jordan family is profound and unfathomable, but has only tempered our convictions in favor of capital punishment."
The attorney general's office said a new execution date for Brown "will be sought in accordance with applicable law and in conformity with all court orders," but gave no date.
"I'm relieved," said John Grele, one of Brown's attorneys. "This was a hastily designed plan."
Before the execution was canceled, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had declined Brown's request for clemency.
"Albert Brown was sentenced to death for committing the most heinous and unconscionable crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers, and now 30 years later the state is still unable to carry out his execution," Schwarzenegger said. "It is absurd that our legal system continues to prevent the state from carrying out the will of the people."
In August, the attorney general's office said execution dates would be sought for several of the more than 700 death row inmates who have completed the appeals process. But soon after, prosecutors canceled a Sept. 14 hearing in Ventura County to obtain a death warrant for Michael Morales, who came within two hours of being executed in February 2006.
Prison officials called off Morales' execution after conceding they couldn't comply with Fogel's order concerning the participation of medical personnel. In December 2006, Fogel placed a de factor moratorium on executions when he ordered prison officials to overhaul their lethal injection process.
Since then, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has built a new death chamber and changed how the execution team and San Quentin prison are selected and trained. The state formally adopted new lethal injection regulations on Aug. 29.