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November 10, 2017

Nebraska moving forward with execution plans involving a new four-drug(?!) lethal injection protocol

The state of Nebraska has not had an execution in two decades, and the state's legislature actually abolished the death penalty back in 2015.  But voters in 2016 brought the death penalty back, and this local article reports on recent work by the state's Attorney General to carry out the will of the people.  And the article, headlined "State of Nebraska moves closer to executing Jose Sandoval by lethal injection, but legal challenges appear likely," explains why the novel execution method adopted in the state seems sure to engender litigation:

The State of Nebraska took a big step Thursday toward executing its first death-row inmate in 20 years, using an untried combination of lethal-injection drugs.

Attorney General Doug Peterson said Thursday that he is prepared to request a death warrant for Jose Sandoval after at least 60 days, which is the minimum notice period for condemned inmates under the state’s execution protocol. The Nebraska Supreme Court issues death warrants if an inmate has no pending appeals. A check of state and federal court records Thursday showed that Sandoval’s last legal challenge was decided against him in 2011 and that he has no active appeals. It’s unclear whether he currently has a lawyer or will contest the state’s plan to execute him.

But experts say the new four-drug combination officials unveiled Thursday has never been used by another state in a lethal injection execution. Legal challenges over the drugs could further delay what would be the first time Nebraska has used lethal injection to carry out an execution. Twenty years ago, the state relied solely on the electric chair. “It’s yet another experimental protocol. Now the lawsuits begin,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services notified Sandoval that it will inject four drugs in the following order: diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride. Diazepam (brand names include Valium) is a benzodiazepine that is used to produce a calming effect. Fentanyl citrate is a general anesthetic that has been used since the 1960s. As an opioid, it also blocks pain, which has made it a popular a street drug linked to lethal overdoses.

Cisatracurium besylate (brand name: Nimbex) relaxes or paralyzes muscles and is used along with a general anesthetic when intubating patients or doing surgery. The final drug, potassium chloride, is used to stop the inmate’s heart. It was the only drug that was also used in Nebraska’s former three-drug combination.

Dunham said the four drugs selected by Nebraska have not been used in combination by another death penalty state. The third drug, cisatracurium besylate, has not been used before in an execution, he added.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, California, said that in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court established “a fairly high hurdle for those who would stop a lethal injection.” In deciding a lethal injection dispute in Oklahoma, the court said that to prevent an execution, the drug must present a “demonstrated risk of causing severe pain” in the inmate and the risk must be substantial compared with known alternative drugs, Scheidegger said. “The objection that a drug has never been used before is not valid by itself,” he said.

The announcement that Sandoval had been selected for execution was somewhat surprising, given that several other inmates have been on death row longer than he has. Sandoval was the ringleader of a 2002 botched bank robbery that left five people shot to death. He was later convicted of killing two men before the bank shootings. Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter, Evonne, was gunned down by Sandoval as she stood in line to cash a check, said she had been waiting for this day. “He needs to be executed, and Nebraska has the drugs to do it now,” Tuttle said Thursday....

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, the leading opponent of capital punishment in the state, said the new and untested protocol would inspire lengthy legal action. “They’re far from being at the point at which an execution can be carried out,” Chambers said. “I think the rough ride has just begun.”

The senator said he thought that Thursday’s announcement was more a “political and public relations” move tied to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ bid to win a second term as governor. The Republican governor helped organize and fund a petition drive to reinstate capital punishment last year after the Legislature in 2015 overrode his veto to repeal the death penalty.

Danielle Conrad, director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said she was “horrified” that the state plans to use Sandoval as a test subject for an unproven lethal drug combination. Her organization, she said, will closely evaluate the constitutional questions raised by the state’s plan. “This rash decision will not fix the problems with Nebraska’s broken death penalty and are a distraction from the real issues impacting Nebraska’s Department of Corrections: an overcrowded, crisis-riddled system,” she said in a press release....

Sandoval was considered the leader of four men who attempted to rob the Norfolk bank. He shot and killed three of the victims. He is one of 11 men on death row, which is at the Tecumseh State Prison.

November 10, 2017 at 09:10 AM | Permalink


Carfentanyl is not only lethal, it is a potent pain killer, 10,000 times as potent as morphine, 100 times as heroin. It could be used to operate on a rhinoceros in the zoo.

It is cheap, on the internet, from many Chinese suppliers. It can be ordered with a credit card or with bitcoin. It will arrive by mail. It is user friendly, and predictably effective. It shuts down the brain, including the breathing center, and other centers maintaining heart rate and blood pressure.

Prison industries may also produce it easily, but will never beat the cost of Chinese suppliers. Danielle Conrad of the ACLU can also relax, since it proven, and has a long track record. Its close relative, fentanyl, is FDA approved, and marketed as Duragesic.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 10, 2017 11:47:23 AM

I have wondered why large opiate doses have not been suggested,somewhat along the lines of how some states do use barbiturates. I suspect a lot of it is that there is a puritan streak saying that it's not allowed to have any part of an execution - no matter how fleeting - actually pleasant for the condemned.

I do admit there are some secondary issues, for example opiates would need tight controls in order to ensure that none of the supply gets diverted into the general prison environment. But I still suspect that the first is the "real" reason.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 10, 2017 9:52:54 PM

An ambulance EMS tech had to be Narcaned, nodding out driving a Narcaned patient to the hospital. His partner had to grab the wheel, pull the ambulance over, resuscitate the guy.

A drug dog, a heavy German shepherd, started nodding out, and had to be Narcaned, after sniffing a crime scene.

Would the diversion of carfentanyl into the general prison population be that bad a side effect of its adoption for the death penalty?

As an executioner, I would certainly be covered, wear gloves and a respirator.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 11, 2017 10:58:50 AM

A complex, unpredictable death penalty drug administration has to have been devised by lawyers, under court supervision.

Result? The stupidest method of execution. The way of imbeciles.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 13, 2017 2:21:36 AM

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