California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Nebraska: 3-drug combo is execution cocktail

Nebraska corrections officials propose to execute condemned prisoners with a 3-drug combination.

The drugs would be the same used in all other states that carry out the death penalty by lethal injection an anesthetic, a paralyzing agent and a drug to stop the prisoner's heart.

Death penalty critics attack the drugs, saying they can cause prisoners to suffer and that veterinarians have rejected using them to euthanize animals.

But the three-drug protocol is outlined in draft rules and regulations for Nebraska executions officials released Monday.

The proposed rules would carry out the state's new lethal injection law. A public hearing is set for Nov. 16 at the State Office Building in Lincoln.

Robert Houston, director of corrections, said staffers who developed the draft protocol did not consider other drugs.

"Those are the most accepted," he said. "We believe that that protocol follows state law and reflects the best procedures from around the country."

But Mike Nelsen, an Omaha attorney who has defended people on death row, predicted that the protocol would become an immediate target for legal action:

"This will prompt a substantial legal challenge, and the state will spend money needlessly that they could spend on other things."

Nelsen said a botched execution in Ohio this month illustrates some of the problems with lethal injection.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland ordered a halt to the execution of Romell Broom, 53, on Sept. 15 after technicians tried for 2 hours to get an intravenous line started. Appeals are pending on whether the state can try again.

Houston said Nebraska officials would study the Ohio case in hopes of avoiding similar problems.

The state's draft protocol calls for a team of at least 12 people to carry out an execution.

None would have to be licensed health care professionals, although two team members would have to get training as emergency medical technicians and in drawing blood and starting IV lines.

The execution team would include the department director, the Nebraska State Penitentiary warden, the penitentiary staff communicator, at least seven people to escort the prisoner and a 2-person IV team. The IV team is to start an intravenous line and administer the drugs when the director orders.

The draft rules spell out the order and dosage of the drugs.

The warden is to do consciousness checks after the 1st drug is administered. The checks are to determine whether the prisoner is anesthetized before giving the 2nd drug, a paralyzing agent.

Houston said he expects to draw the team members from among corrections staff.

Nebraska was the last death penalty state to adopt lethal injection as its method of execution. State lawmakers approved the change earlier this year.

The Nebraska Supreme Court had declared the previous method of execution the electric chair to be cruel and unusual punishment in March 2008.

Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty is studying the draft protocol and won't have specific comments until later, said Jill Francke, the group's statewide coordinator.

But, she said, the state's proposal doesn't address major flaws in the death penalty process.

"We certainly don't see this as any sort of improvement to fix a system that is clearly broken," Francke said.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the state learned from others in crafting its lethal injection protocol.

It also has the benefit of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld Kentucky's lethal injection law. The 2 dissenting judges in the case recommended the consciousness checks.

Bruning said he expects the rule-making process to be completed "within the next few months." By law, the attorney general and governor have to review and approve the rules.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 29, 2009

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