From the Sacramento Bee:
New death chamber under construction
By Ryan Lillis - Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:09 pm PDT
Friday, April 13, 2007
Legislative officials were surprised to learn this week that the state is building a new death chamber at San Quentin State Prison as part of a response to a federal judge's ruling that California's lethal injection methods are unconstitutional, The Bee has learned.
Staff members with the California Legislative Analyst's Office were made aware of the project during a visit to the prison on Tuesday, according to Dan Carson, director of the office's criminal justice section.
The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not tell legislators the project had begun. LAO staffers were "surprised" to learn the construction had started, Carson said, adding the project is "very far along."
Carson said paperwork indicates the price tag on the project is $399,000. Projects costing less than $400,000 can be paid for out of discretionary funds; legislators do not need to be notified of such projects.
"We are not making an assertion at this point that there was any violation of state rules," Carson said.
In December, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled San Quentin's 69-year-old chamber was cramped and had inadequate lighting. Construction on a new chamber began last month and is expected to be completed in May, according to Lt. Eric Messick, a spokesman for the prison.
Fogel's ruling came after a lawsuit brought on behalf of convicted killer Michael Angelo Morales, who sued the state in response to questions of whether inmates were awake during previous executions. Fogel eventually found seven cases in which inmates may not have been unconscious when they were injected with the drug that was to kill them.
Morales stands convicted of the rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell in a Lodi vineyard in 1981.
In addition to the space concerns, Fogel determined four other problems with the state's execution process: inconsistent and unreliable screening of execution team members; a lack of meaningful training and oversight of the execution team; inconsistent and unreliable record keeping; and improper mixing, preparation and administration of sodium thiopental, a barbiturate sedative.
A spokeswoman for the corrections department would not comment on the new chamber. Under a judge's ruling, the state does not have to discuss its progress until May 15.