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.
Saturday, Winchell's family and friends gathered 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."