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Ruling Against Gas Executions Upheld

February 22, 1996

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling outlawing California’s gas chamber as cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision Wednesday, which came as the state prepares to execute by injection its first killer in four years, was immediately criticized by Gov. Pete Wilson as ``shortsighted and misguided.″

``California should not be prohibited from using the gas chamber to perform executions to society’s most brutal and heinous killers,″ Wilson said in calling for a further appeal.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday found the 1994 federal ruling _ the first by any U.S. court to declare a method of execution unconstitutional _ was properly based on evidence that found gas chamber deaths were accompanied by prolonged pain.

It required the state to conduct future executions by lethal injection, until then an unused option under a 1993 state law.

``It’s an important decision in that it prohibits the state from torturing people to death,″ said Michael Laurence, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented prisoners challenging the gas chamber. ``It recognizes that even people on death row who are going to be executed deserve some humanity.″

For her October 1994 ruling, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel heard from a battery of scientific experts and witnesses, and examined a half-century of official execution records. She found that prisoners in the gas chamber probably suffer excruciating pain for between 15 seconds and several minutes.

She also noted that 10 states, including California, used gas as the sole method of execution in 1970, and no states do so today. That trend, along with the evidence of pain, shows that gas chamber executions violate ``evolving standards of human decency″

Steve Telliano, spokesman for Attorney General Dan Lungren, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal further.

William Bonin, the ``Freeway Killer,″ is scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Friday for the murders of 14 young men and boys.

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