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Calif. Execution Poses Wider Question

A death row inmate who tortured, raped and murdered a teenager 25 years ago moved a step closer to death when a federal appeals court dismissed petitions seeking to block Tuesday's scheduled execution on the grounds that the method to be used is cruel and unusual punishment.

Barring a reprieve by the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case is to be appealed, Michael Morales, 46, is to become the 14th prisoner California has executed since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978. His execution would be California's third in just over two months.

On death row at San Quentin for the murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell, Morales and his attorneys had asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to block his looming execution amid claims that California's three-drug death cocktail, and the way it is administered, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Winchell's family and friends, who expect that the execution will happen, gathered Saturday at her grave – some with flowers, others with balloons – to celebrate her life and say a final goodbye.

"When we graduated high school, a lot of us put a white rose in our bouquet in honor or Terri. We're still carrying our white rose for Terri," said Trish Costa, a classmate of Winchell's, in an interview on KXTL-TV. "We're gonna go to our high school reunion. We're gonna look for our fellow classmates, the first thing on your mind is, Terri is not here."

"I'm so glad this is coming to a close," said Barbara Christian, Winchell's mother. "All the news and notoriety is just making it like the crime happened yesterday."

Terri's father, Mack Winchell, said she was a "lovely, vivacious young lady," who always found time to spend with both her parents, who divorced when she was young.

"In all of these years, no one has contacted our family and said sorry," said Bradley Winchell, brother of the victim.

Brian Pratt, another relative, is unsympathetic to arguments by Morales and his attorneys that the execution ought to be called off.

"I think they ought to bring back hanging or electrocution for this type of crime," said Pratt. "He'll get what he deserves."

"He's the monster that killed the beauty, and he needs to pay for a crime that was senseless," said Jacqueline Miles, a family friend. "We need to actually show the world that people can't get away with murdering people just because they get mad."

Morales and his attorneys argue that the condemned man might feel too much pain if the sedative he is given doesn't make him unconscious before a paralyzing agent and the final heart-stopping drugs begin coursing through his veins.

In response to those allegations, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose has recommended that California employ two anesthesiologists. One would be in the execution chamber with Morales and another would be nearby to ensure that the inmate is unconscious before the two remaining drugs are injected.

Morales appealed, maintaining the injection method, similar versions of which are practiced in 36 of the 38 U.S. states with capital punishment, still amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Fogel asked for the change after studying the medical logs of executed inmates and finding that there were "substantial questions" about whether prisoners were conscious and feeling unacceptable levels of pain once the paralyzing agent was administered.

"In addressing Morales' concerns about the anesthesiologists' monitoring role, the court explicitly clarified that the anesthesiologists will take all medically appropriate steps necessary to ensure that Morales is and remains unconscious," the appeals court ruled Sunday.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the death sentence without comment. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency Friday.