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A US federal judge has ordered the state of California to make its lethal injections a less potentially uncomfortable experience for customers - or he will stop the planned execution next week of convicted rapist and murderer Michael Morales.

Specifically, the BBC reports, judge Jeremy Fogel is demanding "new measures to ensure the lethal injection does not cause undue suffering". Morales' lawyers have claimed the cocktail of "paralysing and heart-stopping chemicals in the injection" might cause extreme pain if the dose of barbiturates previously administered is inadequate.

Accordingly, Fogel wants the lethal mix changed, or an expert to be on the spot to "ensure Morales is not conscious when the toxins take effect". He cited the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution which forbids punishments "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society".

During last December's execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams at San Quentin prison, staff struggled for several minutes to insert a needle into his arm. Eyewitnesses said it took the former gang leader a further several minutes to die after injection of the lethal cocktail.

Morales is scheduled for execution on 21 February. He was sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell. He may still have cause to plead for clemency, the Seattle PI reports, since the judge who heard the original case has told governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that he would "not have approved of the jurors' death sentence had he known a jailhouse informant falsely testified that Morales bragged about the crime in jail". ®

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