By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday to order the execution of two condemned killers using a single drug for lethal injections, a move intended to end a 6-year hold on the death penalty in California over the method used by the state.
The move comes days after Democratic Governor Jerry Brown told prison officials to consider using the single-drug execution protocol, and ahead of a November ballot measure that seeks to repeal capital punishment in the state.
A federal judge halted all California executions in 2006 after finding that the three-drug method that has been used for lethal injections in the state carried the risk of causing the inmate too much pain and suffering before death. California revised its protocol, but an appeals court has blocked a resumption of executions over the same objections.
Motions filed by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley's office in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday asked that the warden of San Quentin State Prison put convicted murderers Mitchell Carleton Sims and Tiequon Aundray Cox to death by the single-drug protocol or show cause why the executions cannot proceed.
Sims, 52, and Cox, 46, have both been on California's death row at San Quentin, near San Francisco, for more than a quarter century.
"It is time Sims and Cox pay for their crimes," Cooley said. "I am joining with the California District Attorney's Association and other district attorneys throughout California in asking the Superior Courts throughout the state to hold these killers responsible for the lives they took so many years ago."
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Cooley, said the district attorney had been working with prosecutors across the state for months on the strategy, and that it would soon be used against other convicted murderers in California.
Sims was sentenced to die in 1986 for murdering a pizza deliveryman and also faces the death penalty in South Carolina in the murders of two co-workers there.
Cox was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in January 1986 in the killing of a grandmother, her daughter and two grandchildren. He was sentenced to die that April.
Gibbons said both men had exhausted their appeals and that only the ruling against California's three-drug protocol was stopping the state from putting them to death.
Los Angeles prosecutors said in court papers that the one-drug protocol, which was being used in Ohio, Washington and Arizona for lethal injections, had been upheld by courts as constitutional.
The ballot initiative focuses on the high cost of the death penalty in a state that has executed 13 people since capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976. Another 723 inmates sit on death row pending lengthy and expensive appeals.
If the anti-death penalty measure passes, California would join 17 other states and Washington, D.C. without capital punishment.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, was skeptical that prosecutors could persuade a judge to approve executions by a protocol that had not been fully vetted by the courts.
"The D.A. can file and request this but the larger question is whether California has a working protocol for carrying out executions, and I don't think it has," Dieter said. "It's not as simple as just changing to one drug."
Dieter said the move could force courts to more quickly take up the issue of using the single-drug protocol in California.
Appellate attorneys for Sims and Cox could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for SAFE, the group behind the anti-death penalty initiative that qualified last month for the November ballot, declined to comment on Cooley's move.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)