Baze v. Rees


Q & A


14. What evidence supports the assertion that execution team members are often unqualified to carry out executions because, for example, they are improperly screened for the assignment, lack training, and are unfamiliar with the protocols and the risks involved in lethal injection?


The following are several examples, which are more fully developed in the amicus curiae briefs in support of the petitioners in Baze, including the Amicus Brief for Michael Morales, Michael Taylor, et al., at 9-17.


  • In a memorandum opinion on the California challenge, Judge Jeremy Fogel found that “team members almost uniformly have no knowledge of the nature or properties of the drugs that are used or risk of potential problems associated with the procedure.”  Morales, 465 F. Supp. 2d at 979.  He found that one of the “critical deficiencies” of California’s lethal injection protocol was “[a] lack of meaningful training.  Id.  Judge Fogel’s conclusion was based on some of the following undisputed facts.

  • The warden, who presided over two executions and would have presided over the scheduled execution of Michael Morales, testified that there are no rules or regulations that require him to evaluate the qualifications, experience, or training of the team members and that there are no rules requiring him to do so. Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts at 3, Morales v. Tilton, No. C06-0219, C06-926 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 27, 2006) [hereinafter “JSUF”].  In fact, team members were selected by other team members by unanimous vote.  JSUF at 2.  The execution team leader himself was disciplined for smuggling illegal drugs into San Quentin prison, and subsequently appointed to the execution team.  JSUF at 3.  Another team leader had been diagnosed with, and disabled by, post-traumatic stress disorder, and he remained on the team despite his acknowledgement that working on the execution team is the most stressful responsibility a prison employee could ever have.  JSUF at 4.

  • A member of the California execution team, who had participated in eight executions and was responsible for mixing and preparing the thiopental, testified that the team really did not have any training.  JSUF at 13.  The team did not practice mixing the anesthetic, nor did they practice responses to foreseeable contingencies that could easily arise during executions.  JSUF at 12-14.

  • When an execution team member in California was asked in a deposition whether she had read the protocol, she responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  JSUF at 55. 

  • During the execution of Stanley Williams on December 13, 2005, a registered nurse who was responsible for inserting one of the catheters in Mr. Williams’ arm made two unsuccessful attempts to do so, at which point Mr. Williams’ vein ruptured.  JSUF at 18.  After a third unsuccessful attempt at setting the catheter, the IV team failed to realize that they had still failed to set the catheter.  Someone stated twice that the left IV line was still not flowing and had failed.  Id.  Nonetheless, the Warden directed the team to “proceed” and the execution was carried out without the IV in the left arm properly set or operating.  Id.  Doing so created a foreseeable risk that the next two drugs would be administered while Mr. Williams was not properly anesthetized, a risk that apparently was either not understood by the execution team or was of no concern to them.  See Amicus Brief for Michael Morales, Michael Taylor, et al., at 35.  When asked about the problems setting the catheter in Mr. Williams’ arm, the nurse in question stated that other execution team members’ only response was “shit does happen.”  JSUF at 54.



  • Dr. Doe testified that during executions, he varied the amount of thiopental he gave inmates as he saw fit, with no requirement that he or others involved report the amount that was actually prepared or used.  Tr. of Testimony of John Doe 1 at 13-19 (Taylor v. Crawford, No. 05-4173 (W.D. Mo. June 5, 2006).  He testified that he had recently begun giving inmates, at most, half the amount of thiopental than he had previously given, because a change in the drug packaging forced him to “improvise.”  Id. at 9-12, 24.  He could not say how much thiopental he had administered in any particular execution, and his poor recordkeeping renders it impossible to reconstruct the dose after the fact.  Id. at 14-18.  



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