09:16 PM PDT on Monday, August 30, 2010

By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY
The Press-Enteprise

Two Inland area death row inmates may be among the first to be executed if California authorities succeed in re-establishing the lethal injection death penalty in the state after a four-year hiatus.

A Riverside County judge on Monday set Sept. 29 as the execution date for Albert Greenwood Brown for the 1980 rape and murder of a Riverside girl.

San Bernardino County prosecutors are considering seeking a new death warrant for Kevin Cooper, condemned for the 1983 hatchet-and-knife slayings of two adults and two children in a Chino Hills ranch home.

Brown and Cooper are among a handful of the state’s 706 condemned inmates who have exhausted their appeals and are subject to a new lethal injection protocol that took effect Monday, propelling a move to resume executions in California.

A prosecutor said during Brown’s hearing Monday that authorities will move soon to get five more execution dates set, including Cooper’s.

There is a question about whether the executions can go forward in the face of two court cases, one in state court in Marin County, one before a federal judge in San Jose, that have halted capital punishment in California since 2006.

Issues include the effectiveness, administration and storage methods for the three-drug cocktail used to execute inmates.

The attorney general’s office said it has resolved protocol issues for lethal injections with a 42-page procedural manual developed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and approved by the state Office of Administrative Law.

A hearing was coincidentally scheduled for today in the Marin County case.

The other California cases that may be headed for an execution date-setting include two from Los Angeles County, one from San Joaquin County and one from Santa Clara County.

BROWN CASE

Brown was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and strangling 15-year-old Susan Louise Jordan in a Riverside orange grove. She was abducted as she was walking to Arlington High School.

After the murder, authorities said Brown made chilling phone calls to the girl’s mother. “Hello, Mrs. Jordan,” the caller said. “Susan isn’t home from school yet, is she? You’ll never see your daughter again.”

Subsequent calls led authorities to the body. Brown had been paroled four months earlier for the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Roger Luebs set Sept. 29 as the execution date for Brown. The state Supreme Court on Friday denied an emergency stay requested by Brown.

His case has been before the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals since he was sentenced to death in 1982.

“Justice has been delayed in this matter for over 30 years since Susan Jordan was murdered,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell argued Monday before Luebs. “It is time we move forward with this execution date.”

Brown’s appellate attorney, Jan B. Norman, argued for a later date. She said the range of time between the Supreme Court’s Friday decision and an execution date for her client was 30 to 60 days, and prosecutors chose the short end.

Mitchell said the date was not arbitrarily chosen, but based on availability of people involved, from prison staff to judicial officers to the governor.

He also said challenges in other courts should not affect Luebs’s decision.

Norman said it left her little time — perhaps just seven or eight days — to prepare a clemency plea to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to seek either an execution delay or a grant of mercy for her client.

In the Cooper case, San Bernardino County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis said his office was working with the state attorney general’s office to look for a chance to set an execution date.

He said Cooper has filed a new appeal in state court in San Diego. He again wants to look at DNA evidence that he says could exonerate him. A similar challenge failed after years in federal court. The Supreme Court turned down that appeal in 2009.

LEGAL CHALLENGES

Anticipated legal challenges to the new protocols make it unlikely that Brown will actually face a Sept. 29 execution, said Ellen Kreitzberg, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

“As a procedural matter it first has to be resolved in state court in Marin County, after which it would go to (U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy D.) Fogel in San Jose,” Kreitzberg explained.

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