State prison officials have settled a lawsuit over California’s death penalty procedures by agreeing to draft new policies on lethal injection that for the first time will call for using only one drug instead of three, but the deal is not expected to result in the return of capital punishment in the near future.
The deal announced Tuesday settles a lawsuit filed in November by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation on behalf of Bradley Winchell and Kermit Alexander, whose relatives were slain in two separate murder cases that landed the killers on San Quentin’s death row.
The deal “means we have some light at the end of the tunnel, finally,” said Kent Scheidegger, the foundation’s legal director. “Nothing can go forward until we adopt a new protocol, and they have been delaying in doing that.”
The lawsuit was aimed at forcing the state to come up with an execution procedure – called a “protocol” by corrections officials– that could stand up to court scrutiny and allow the resumption of executions in California for the first time since January 2006.
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Legal battles have kept the state from executing any condemned inmates since then, and the legal foundation argued in Sacramento Superior Court that corrections officials have dragged their feet in drawing up an execution procedure.
The settlement of the lawsuit does not spell out what the new procedure will entail, but the corrections department said Tuesday it will craft a one-drug protocol.
The settlement calls for California officials to submit draft regulations on the new method within 120 days of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pending lethal injection case out of Oklahoma. That decision may come by the end of this month.
Even with the settlement, the future of capital punishment in California remains unclear. Any new effort to conduct an execution will generate legal battles, and death penalty opponents have been working for years to find a way to ban the punishment in California, one of 31 states with capital punishment.