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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Nebraska considers 1st execution since 1997

If inmate Carey Dean Moore is put to death, it would be Nebraska's 1st execution since 1997 and its first lethal injection.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said a motion was filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court on Monday, requesting that a date be set. Moore was sentenced to death for the 1979 murders of 2 Omaha cabbies.

The state's last execution occurred in 1997, when Robert Williams was electrocuted for killing three women. 11 men remain on Nebraska's death row. Besides Williams, Harold Otey and John Joubert also have been electrocuted since the state resumed executions in 1994.

Moore's attorney, Alan Peterson, did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday. Moore was convicted of 1st-degree murder for killing taxi drivers Maynard D. Helgeland and Reuel Eugene Van Ness in botched robberies.

Moore, 53, came within a week of being executed in 2007, but 6 days before his scheduled execution the state's high court issued a stay because it wanted to consider whether the electric chair should still be used.

Then the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the electric chair amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, lawmakers approved lethal injection as the state's sole method.

For nearly 4 decades, former state Sen. Ernie Chambers, who opposed the death penalty, held up any effort to change Nebraska's method of execution because he believed the electric chair eventually would be banished by the courts. Chambers' departure from the Legislature in 2008 because of term limits made it possible for lawmakers to pass the lethal injection bill.

On Friday, the state received the 3rd drug needed to carry out an execution by lethal injection. A worldwide shortage of the drug, sodium thiopental, has made it hard to acquire, and the only U.S. manufacturer of the drug announced last week that it would stop making it.

Nebraska's lethal-injection law and the execution procedure prison officials developed were modeled on Kentucky's system because that state's death penalty withstood the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services said last summer that it had prepared a new execution chamber and trained workers to carry out the death penalty once the state obtained the sodium thiopental that will be used to render an inmate unconscious. The other drugs involved in the process are pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes an inmate's breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Nebraska's 5-page lethal injection protocol requires that 3 drugs be administered during an execution by trained corrections workers, including 2 emergency technicians who would be responsible for maintaining an open IV line.

After an execution date is set, members of the execution team who have already received training will undergo weekly refresher courses. When no execution dates are scheduled, the team trains every 6 months.

Critics of lethal injection have argued that corrections workers who don't regularly administer intravenous drugs may have trouble finding a vein. Supporters say the training requirements spelled out in the protocol - including that members of the IV teams be trained as emergency medical technicians - would alleviate that concern.

All 36 death penalty states use lethal injection, and 35 rely on the 3-drug method. But the 3-drug procedure has been questioned.

In 2009, Ohio switched to a 1-drug execution procedure after the state botched a lethal injection. Romell Broom's executioners tried unsuccessfully for 2 hours to find a usable vein for injection, painfully hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks before the governor halted the execution.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday how soon the Supreme Court might set an execution date for Moore.

But legal challenges to Nebraska's new execution method could still put capital punishment on hold for several years in the state.

Attorneys who oppose the death penalty have said they expect lawsuits will be filed attacking various components of the new lethal injection protocol, including training requirements they say are vague. The law is also expected to be challenged under federal civil-rights law.

Source: Associated Press, January 26, 2011
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