Thursday, February 23, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Februart 23, 2006

California is having trouble executing condemned murderer Michael Morales. Seems like anesthesiologists and other medical professionals in the Golden State are getting a little queasy about helping out in the fine art of lethal injection.

Something about the Hippocratic Oath or some other medical mumbo jumbo.

So why doesn’t California just do what New Mexico did in 2001, when the state performed its first (and so far only) legal execution since 1960?

Hire moonlighting executioners from Texas.

In 2001, when child killer/rapist Terry Clark’s days officially were numbered, the state hired two employees of the Texas prison system.

The $12,000 contract had to be one of the most macabre ever issued by the state:

“At approximately 20 minutes before the scheduled time for the execution, as directed by the warden, contractor shall insert the necessary catheters into the appropriate veins of the inmate sentenced to death. At the scheduled time of the execution, if directed to proceed by the warden, contractor shall administer the lethal injection to the inmate sentenced to death.”
A New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman said at the time that the two “execution experts” had also been hired to help out with capital punishment in New York, Montana and Kentucky.

So how come California didn’t do the same and hire some outside “execution specialist”?

One of Terry Clark’s attorneys, Brian Pouri — an Albuquerque lawyer who also is licensed to practice in California — said Wednesday that California’s laws governing executions are virtually the same as New Mexico’s.

But in the Morales case, a federal judge ordered restrictions on the lethal-injection process. Basically, Pouri explained, the court ruled that the state could either have an anesthesiologist on hand to make sure Morales wasn’t feeling pain — or in the alternative, give the condemned man a big enough dose of barbiturates to kill him.

“Once they got the doctors involved, that was it,” Pouri said.

Why didn’t that happen in Clark’s case?

Clark, who murdered 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore in Artesia in 1986, wanted to die. He asked to stop any further legal proceedings.

“Nobody else had any (legal) standing,” Pouri said.

Speaking of medical ethics: The contract for Clark’s executioners included travel and expenses. But there’s one thing the Texas guys didn’t have to provide — the drugs used in the execution.

The sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride were purchased by the state Health Department — you know, that agency with the mission statement that says it’s supposed to “promote health, prevent disease and disability.”

But the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the agency that licenses government agencies and private companies to buy controlled drugs, said it had no problem with the state Health Department supplying drugs to kill a man.

At least they didn’t give him something illegal like medical marijuana.

No announcement of an announcement: Gov. Bill Richardson has said since before Day 1 that he plans to seek re-election. He is already on the June primary ballot — unopposed.

So there’s no real need for a formal announcement. But can you imagine Bill Richardson giving up a chance to give a speech before an adoring audience cheering wildly every time he says he’s “moving New Mexico forward”?

Yet on Wednesday, when asked whether a formal announcement was forthcoming, Richardson seemed noncommittal.

His chief of staff (and 2002 campaign manager) Dave Contarino said there probably would be some kind of announcement. But Contarino noted that when Bill Clinton ran for re-election for governor of Arkansas, he never formally announced.

Last November during an interview on CSPAN2, Richardson said he wasn’t pledging to serve a full four years if re-elected.

On that show, he used the example of President Bush, who told voters when running for re-election as Texas governor in 1998 that he might run for higher officer. “I may do the same, but I haven’t decided that. ... What I will do is, I will tell my constituents the truth when I talk to them about whether I go beyond this.”

But Richardson said Wednesday that he’s not ready yet to have such a talk with voters.

The latest numbers: Richardson continues to do well in the SurveyUSA/KOB TV poll. The latest one, conducted Feb. 10-12 of 600 New Mexico adults, shows his best numbers in 10 months. The firm has been doing monthly tracking polls of the nation’s 50 governors.

Richardson’s approval rating was 64 percent. Only 32 percent said they disapproved of the way Richardson was doing his job.

For the first time, SurveyUSA shows Democrat Richardson getting a majority of Republicans giving him approval. That’s 52 percent to 42 percent who disapprove.

SurveyUSA’s margin of error is 3.9 percent.

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