SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California published its proposed new rules for lethal injection of condemned prisoners on Friday, moving the state a step closer to resuming executions after nearly a decade of not doing so.
The proposed regulations, released for public comment Friday morning, would instruct prison officials to use a single drug for lethal injections, rather than the three-drug cocktail that was declared unconstitutional by a California court because it may not block pain to the recipient.
The state, the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold where public support for the death penalty has been slipping for years, stopped executing prisoners after Clarence Ray Allen was put to death nearly 10 years ago for three murders in Fresno.
But juries have continued to sentence defendants to die, sending 181 felons to death row since Allen's execution in January of 2006.
Corrections officials say they are required by law to carry out executions if legal roadblocks, such as a Marin County judge's order banning the three-drug cocktail, do not prevent such action.
The state has developed the new rules to comply with the Marin County judge's order. Earlier this year, the state stopped fighting the order, and said it would develop a new protocol that would be in compliance with the judge's ruling.
However, it was not immediately clear when - or whether - the state would resume executions.
Representatives of California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Prison officials have said they are developing the new protocol simply because they need to follow California law authorizing juries to impose the death penalty in certain cases.
But politicians in California also have not had the stomach to force the issue in a state where many top officeholders, including the attorney general, oppose the death penalty. A slim majority of voters, about 56 percent, support it, the lowest number in years, according to a Field Poll last year.
Even before the court blocked the three-drug cocktail in 2010, the pace of executions in California was slow, with just 13 people executed from 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated, to 2006.
Still awaiting execution are 747 prisoners who have been condemned since 1978. Sixty-nine inmates have died of natural causes while on death row and 24 have committed suicide.
A public hearing on the proposed lethal injection protocol is set for January 22, the state said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Frances Kerry)