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US judge acts to protect executioners' privacy

Written by: Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, Apr 4 (Reuters) A US federal judge reviewing whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment ordered that identifying information on California's executioners not be made public.

In his order, Judge Jeremy Fogel in the Northern District of California said lawyers for a killer set to die by lethal injection could gain details about the executioners at San Quentin prison but not make that information public.

''The court has found that the records of recent executions raise substantial questions as to whether the drugs are in fact being administered properly,'' Fogel wrote in a protective order.

''Under these circumstances, plaintiff must be given a reasonable opportunity, in a manner that will not jeopardize the safety of prison personnel, to explore possible answers to these substantial questions, including answers that relate to the background, training and experience of the members of the execution team.'' Last Thursday, Fogel made an unusual visit to the death chamber at San Quentin prison north of San Francisco to question the lead executioner in detail about California's lethal injection procedure.

Lawyers for Michael Morales, who raped and bludgeoned a 17-year-old girl to death in 1981, say the three-chemical lethal injection causes undue pain prior to death.

As lawyers review personally identifying details about the San Quentin staff who inject the lethal chemicals, they are barred from making those details public, the judge said yesterday.

During Fogel's visit last week, the guard who leads the execution expressed concern about others learning of his role in the administration of society's harshest punishment.

Inmate Morales was scheduled to be executed in February, but the proceeding was scrapped at the last minute when the prison proved unable to have two anesthesiologists present as ordered by Judge Fogel.

Fogel is scheduled to to hold a full hearing on lethal injection next month. Attorneys for Morales on Monday filed a motion asking for a delay of his execution until September to allow a more thorough examination of the issue.

''A full and fair, timely hearing has the potential to resolve this issue for the courts, the defendants and approximately 660 currently condemned inmates and countless more to come,'' lawyer John Grele wrote.

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