By Brendan Scott, Post Correspondent
ALBANY - The Paterson administration has put to death one of capital punishment's last vestiges - the execution chamber known as the "death house."
The Department of Correctional Services has quietly struck from the books a 40-year-old rule that designated the upstate Green Haven Correctional Facility the state's "Capital Punishment Unit."
The procedural move by Gov. Paterson, a Democrat who opposes capital punishment, completes the long, slow demise of the 1995 statute that reinstated the death penalty after a 23-year hiatus.
Although seven defendants were sentenced to death after then-Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, signed the law, the death house has never hosted an execution.
The two-cell unit sits vacant in an isolated wing of the Dutchess County prison.
Equipment for lethal injection has been removed. The defunct death house is visited once a week for cleaning.
The Court of Appeals ruled the Pataki statute unconstitutional last year.
Correction spokesman Erik Kriss said the death-house regulation was deemed unnecessary as part of an annual review of agency protocols.
"What the court said is, 'If you want executions in this state, the Legislature is going to have to enact a new statute or fix the statute,' " Kriss said. "If it does, we will adopt any new reg, rule or directive as needed."
Death-penalty supporters blasted the unilateral move by Paterson, likening it to his recent directive ordering New York to recognize gay marriages performed out of state.
"It's another decision by fiat," said Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), who has sponsored a bill to make cop killers eligible for lethal injection.
"It should be a decision by the Legislature. This governor wasn't elected. He's got to let the legislators legislate."
The cop-killer legislation is among several attempts by the Republican-run Senate to restore the death penalty, but the bills have failed to move in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Approval has seemed less likely since Paterson succeeded disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was pro-death penalty, in March.