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Federal Judge To Tour California’s Death Chamber

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge who halted lethal injections in California over concerns that it was cruel and unusual punishment plans to tour the state’s new death chamber in February.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel on Wednesday told attorneys representing a death row inmate who filed a lawsuit and the state attorney general’s office that he wants to hold a hearing at San Quentin State Prison sometime in February. Fogel is determining whether the state’s new lethal injection procedure is constitutional.

Fogel halted executions in early 2006 and ordered prison officials to improve their lethal injection process. The judge was concerned that staff members were inadequately trained and the death chamber was too small and dark to properly carry out executions.

Fogel wants to view firsthand the improvements prison officials made to the death chamber since then. Fogel wants to hold the hearing and tour sometime between Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 and asked lawyers to propose a hearing date.

The attorney general’s office asked for Feb. 9 while attorneys for death row inmate Michael Morales, who filed the lawsuit that led to Fogel’s ruling, haven’t made any suggestions yet.

Fogel and the state Supreme Court in separate orders forced state officials to cancel their scheduled Sept. 30 execution of Albert Greenwood Brown, a convicted rapist and killer. Fogel said the state’s attempt to execute Brown surprised him because he believed no lethal injections would be scheduled until Morales’ lawsuit was resolved.

The state said it had scheduled the execution after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation adopted new lethal regulations in August.

The attorney general’s office has since said it won’t schedule any more executions until the Morales lawsuit is resolved.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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