SAN FRANCISCO – California officials on Wednesday called off the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer after setbacks in federal and state courts.
The attorney general's office said in a court filing that it can no longer proceed with the lethal injection of Albert Greenwood Brown at 9 p.m. Thursday.
It would have been California's first execution since 2006.
"I'm relieved," said John Grele, one of Brown's attorneys. "This was a hastily designed plan."
The announcement came after a California Supreme Court ruling made Friday the earliest possible day the state could execute Brown. But by then, the state's entire supply of a drug used during lethal injections would have expired.
It was the second significant legal setback for the government in as many days.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel blocked the execution because he wanted more time to consider the constitutionality of California new lethal injection regulations and whether it avoided cruel and unusual punishment.
The attorney general appealed that decision Wednesday to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then withdrew the effort in the afternoon.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Ronald Matthias told the appeals court that in light of the order issued Wednesday by the state Supreme Court, "no execution of Albert Greenwood Brown can occur on Sept. 30, 2010, as a matter of state law."
Before the execution was canceled, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined a request for clemency from Brown, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old girl on her way home from school in 1980.
"Albert Brown was sentenced to death for committing the most heinous and unconscionable crimes," Schwarzenegger said. "Now 30 years later the state is still unable to carry out his execution. It is absurd that our legal system continues to prevent the state from carrying out the will of the people."
In August, the attorney general's office said execution dates would be sought for several of the more than 700 death row inmates who have completed the trial appeals process.
But soon after, prosecutors canceled a hearing that had been set for Sept. 14 in Ventura County to obtain a death warrant for Michael Morales, who came within two hours of being executed in February 2006.
Prison officials called off the execution of Morales after conceding they couldn't comply with Fogel's order concerning the participation of medical personnel. In December 2006, Fogel placed a de factor moratorium on executions when he ordered prison officials to overhaul their lethal injection process.
Since then, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has built a new death chamber and changed how the execution team and San Quentin prison are selected and trained. The state formally adopted new lethal injection regulations on Aug. 29. The next day, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office obtained an execution date for Brown.
Now, it's unclear when California can schedule another execution.
On Friday it will run out of sodium thiopental, the first of three drugs administered during an execution. The only company in the country that makes the drug said it can't provide a new supply until the first of the year.
The state's battle to resume executions most likely will return to Fogel's courtroom, where a lawsuit filed by Morales has been pending since 2006.
The lawsuit prompted Fogel to halt executions.
"The state is confident it will ultimately prevail on this issue," prison department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.