Defense lawyers requested a stay from the federal judge who last week ordered San Quentin State Prison to have an anesthesiologist on hand to minimize Michael Angelo Morales' pain as he was put to death by lethal injection. A second anesthesiologist was retained as a backup.
Although U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel denied the motion, the anesthesiologists then withdrew, citing ethical concerns raised by Fogel's ruling, according to prison officials who announced the postponement of the execution around 2:30 a.m.
The exact wording of the judge's order was not immediately available.
Morales' attorneys had argued that the three-part lethal injection cocktail used in California and 35 other states violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. They said a prisoner would feel excruciating pain from the last two chemicals if he were not fully sedated.
Prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon said the prison has until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to execute Morales. After that, the "death warrant" expires and officials would have to go back to the trial judge who imposed the death sentence in 1983 for another warrant.
Seeking another warrant could prove difficult for the state, however, since the original sentencing judge, Charles McGrath, joined Morales this month in asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency in the case.
McGrath said he no longer believed the credibility of a jailhouse informant whose testimony helped land Morales on death row.
Earlier Monday, Morales appeared to have exhausted his options for a reprieve after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his claim and the governor for the second time denied a request for clemency.