Argument set for 10:00 AM, Friday, January 30, in Sacramento Superior Court
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang will hear argument Friday in Winchell & Alexander v. Beard, a lawsuit brought by the families of five murder victims. They claim that the executions in California have been unlawfully delayed by state officials.
The suit was filed last November by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation on behalf of Kermit Alexander, whose mother, sister and two nephews were murdered in 1984, and Bradley Winchell, whose sister was raped and murdered in 1981. The suit contends that as relatives of victims they have an enforceable interest in seeing the law carried out. Both murderers, Michael Morales and Tiequon Cox, have exhausted all appeals and, along with more than a dozen others on death row, would have already been executed or would be facing execution soon if the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had established usable standards for lethal injection as required by state law.
The suit requests the judge to order the CDCR to adopt regulations for an execution protocol complying with the conditions established by a federal district court.
California's existing three-drug execution protocol has been blocked by a federal lawsuit for the past nine years, although a 2006 Federal District Court ruling in Morales v. Hickman held that CDCR could resume executions if it adopted a barbiturate-only protocol in place of the three-drug method that had been used throughout the country up to that time.
In 2007, the CDCR announced that it would continue with the three-drug protocol. In April of 2012 Governor Jerry Brown directed the agency to develop a new protocol, considering the single-drug method as an alternative. Yet almost three years later the agency has made no public announcement of any new standards.
Several states have adopted the court-approved one-drug protocol, including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Washington. Texas has executed 38 murderers with pentobarbital alone since 2012. Media witnesses have reported no apparent difficulties in these executions.
"At the heart of this case is whether a government agency can simply choose not to enforce the law and to effectively nullify a court judgment," said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. "The Governor and all the officials under him have a constitutional duty to ‘see that the laws are faithfully executed.' It is not optional," he added.
CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for further comment today at (916) 446-0345 and will be available, along with Bradley Winchell and Kermit Alexander, on the East Steps of the Sacramento County Courthouse (720 Ninth Street) following the hearing on Friday.