Release Date:  March 4, 2019
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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In court papers filed on Friday, March 1, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has asked the federal court of appeals to reject a motion by the families of murder victims seeking to stay an illegal injunction that prevents the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from making itself able to carry out executions of the state’s worst murderers.

The Attorney General opposed a February 19, 2019 motion by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF) on behalf of Kermit Alexander, whose mother, sister, and two nephews were murdered by gang member Tiequon Cox, and Bradley Winchell, whose sister Terri was brutally raped and murdered by Michael Morales. Both Morales and Cox were sentenced to death, but have avoided execution because of stays issued by a federal district court in San Francisco. They are among the 24 murderers who have won stays from that district court since 2006.

The basis for the stays was eliminated over a year ago, when Proposition 66 enabled the state to rescind the problematic three-drug execution method and replace it with a single-drug method previously approved by the federal court. Yet Attorney General Becerra failed to take the steps needed to lift the stays and failed to appeal when the district court granted yet another stay to a new inmate entering the case. The inmates have filed a new complaint against the new method, but they have not made the showing against it that Supreme Court precedent requires for a stay.

The district court rebuffed attempts by three district attorneys to intervene in the case, and it rejected CJLF’s attempt to file arguments against the stays. CJLF then filed a petition in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on January 22, 2019, asking to vacate the stays.

Pending decision of that petition, CJLF has moved for a more limited order allowing the state to go forward with the preparation needed to be ready to carry out executions when the stays are lifted. In orders without precedent anywhere in the country, the district court has blocked CDCR from such routine activities as training the execution team and acquiring the needed drugs. “These orders are blatant violations of the Prison Litigation Reform Act,” said CJLF’s Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. “The Attorney General knows it and has briefed the law in the district court, yet he will not appeal and opposes the victims’ and district attorneys’ efforts to do something about it.”

In the Attorney General’s opposition, he argues that family members of murder victims are mere “bystanders” to the case and do not have enough of a “particularized interest” to support legal standing.

“Both federal law and the California Constitution recognize that victims of crime and the families of deceased victims are much more than ‘bystanders’ when it comes to the punishment of the perpetrators,” Scheidegger said. “The Attorney General has abandoned his obligation to enforce the law by allowing these illegal stays to remain in place, and is now arguing to prevent the families of murder victims from taking action on their own,” he added.

CJLF’s petition is available here:

CJLF’s motion for partial stay is available here:

The Attorney General’s response is available here:

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.