Attorney general Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor in California, is demanding that executions resume in the state as soon as next week in a push that marks a significant change of heart for the former outspoken death penalty opponent.
A judge halted executions in California in 2006 and ordered prison officials to overhaul lethal injection procedures.
More than 700 killers now line death row in California, and Mr Brown’s office believes lethal injection regulations adopted last month will ensure that condemned inmates will not suffer “cruel and unusual punishment” when executed.
California deputy attorney general Michael Quinn told US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel the new regulations authorise the state to execute Albert Greenwood Brown next week.
Albert Brown’s attorney John Grele countered that the judge needed to review the new regulations and the state’s contention it had improved its lethal injection procedure before executions can commence.
Mr Fogel, who imposed the temporary moratorium in 2006, said he was concerned that he was left with so little time to decide such an important issue.
“There is no way any court can conduct an orderly review of constitutional claims in eight days,” he said.
Nonetheless, the judge said he would rule by Friday.
Mr Brown was a vocal opponent of the death penalty when he served as governor in the 1970s and 1980s, once suggesting that banning capital punishment would elevate society to a “higher state of consciousness”.
He vetoed the death penalty in 1977, and his chief justice appointee was removed from the bench in the 1980s for her constant overturning of death penalty convictions.
Mr Brown took more moderate stances since he ran for attorney general in 2006 and vowed to “carry out the laws” of the state.
He is now locked in a tight campaign for governor against Republican Meg Whitman, and his stance could defuse capital punishment as an exploitable issue in the race.
His name is now affixed at the top of new lethal injection procedures that California officials want to use to execute six inmates in the coming months at the San Quentin State Prison death chamber.
Prison officials provided a tour to showcase recent upgrades at San Quentin, including separate eyewitness areas for the victim and inmate families, and a holding cell with a phone and flat-screen television.
Prison spokesman Lieutenant Sam Robinson said the two-year-old lethal injection facility is fully prepared to carry out the execution of convicted murderer Albert Brown next Wednesday.
Prison officials have gone so far as to examine Albert Brown to ensure he has healthy enough veins for the insertion of tubes that will deliver the fatal drugs.
He was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old girl in 1980, and received a death warrant on August 31.
California has executed only 13 inmates since capital punishment resumed in the state in 1977, and its death row is by far the largest in the nation.