Ride The Lightning: CA's New "Death Chamber"

California may be living through a real economic depression. Its government may lurch from crisis to crisis. And, the state may be full of soft-on-crime progressives. But, that doesn't mean we can't have a comfortable (for the witnesses) death chamber at San Quentin. Who says the system doesn't work?

Prison officials offered the first glimpse of their new lethal injection center Tuesday - one week ahead of a planned execution few think will actually be carried out - and the differences between this stark-white place and the old apple-green gas chamber are marked.

The spacious $853,000 center has three brightly lit witness viewing rooms, and each gives a considerably better view than the cramped gas chamber's lone, poorly illuminated viewing room.

In particular, the main observation room for 12 state officials and 17 media witnesses offers four wide, flat windows looking straight into a roomy, open chamber where the lethal injection gurney sits. This makes every angle of the execution visible - unlike the truncated, partially blocked sightlines of the old center.

On the north side of this main witness room is a smaller, seven-seat room for survivors and friends of the condemned inmate's victims. On the south side is an identical room with seven chairs for relatives and friends of the prisoner. Each of those rooms has two wide windows providing unimpeded views.

Saying the system works is a bit of a joke, as the first guest in the new gas chamber was sentenced to death for a crime committed in 1980, and he hasn't even exhausted all of his appeals. Still, if there's one thing we're all about in California it's "unimpeded views."

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