The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by two families of murder victims seeking to end the state's delay of executions. The Sacramento Superior Court ruled in early February that CDCR must defend itself in a lawsuit claiming grossly excessive delay in establishing a new execution protocol to replace the one that had previously been held invalid. Following that ruling, the parties reached a settlement.
The suit, Winchell & Alexander v. Beard, was filed in November 2014 by the 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 1983. They argued that, as relatives of the victims, they have been denied justice by the continued delays.
Both murderers, Michael Morales and Tiequon Cox, have exhausted all appeals and, along with a dozen other murderers on death row, would likely have already been executed or would be facing execution soon if CDCR had moved promptly to adopt a new method, as other states did.
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 one-drug, barbiturate-only protocol. CDCR inexplicably adopted and litigated a new three-drug protocol even after other states had adopted the one-drug method and resumed executions. In April 2012, CDCR revealed that the Governor had directed it to investigate other methods, but two and half years later nothing had been done, and CDCR rejected the victims' request to adopt a new protocol without giving any reason for its refusal.
The settlement, which must be approved by the Superior Court, requires CDCR to develop a new execution protocol and submit it to the Office of Administrative Law within 120 days of the U. S. Supreme Court's ruling in Glossip v. Gross, a challenge to Oklahoma's lethal injection process. That decision is expected late this month.
"Because this settlement will be in the form of a court judgment, it will have the force of law, meaning that if the state fails to comply, it will have to answer," said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. "It is very regrettable that victims of crime needed to file this action in the first place. With some leadership at CDCR and in the Governor's Office, this would have been done years ago," he added.
CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for further comment at (916) 446-0345.