USA | Biden frustrates death penalty opponents with Supreme Court request

Opponents of capital punishment are expressing frustration with the Biden administration’s request this week that the Supreme Court reinstate the death penalty against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Critics see the Department of Justice (DOJ) move as inconsistent with President Biden’s calls on the campaign trail to eliminate capital punishment. Outright repeal of the federal death penalty would require legislation, which is unlikely to clear the current Congress given the deep partisan divide. But advocates say Biden could take steps on his own to curtail executions carried out by the federal government and are renewing calls for him to do just that. “This move from the DOJ contravenes the president’s vow to work with Congress to abolish the federal death penalty,” said Kristina Roth, a senior advocate in Amnesty International USA’s criminal justice program. “Regardless of the Supreme Court's decision in this case, President Biden can, and should, commute all federal de

Nebraska seeks July 10 date for state's 1st execution since 1997

Attorney General Doug Peterson wants the Nebraska Supreme Court to speed up its consideration of an execution warrant for condemned prisoner Carey Dean Moore, and to set the execution date for July 10.

Peterson filed a motion with the court Friday to speed up the warrant, saying that if July 10 doesn't work, he wants the court to consider setting it for sometime in mid-July.

He cites several reasons. One of the execution drugs to be used is set to expire by the end of August. The date of execution, according to state law, must be set no later than 60 days following the court's issuance of a warrant, he said.

Expiration dates of the 4 lethal injection drugs are: potassium chloride, Aug. 31; cisatracurium besylate, Oct. 31; fentanyl citrate, Aug. 31, 2019; diazepam, Sept. 1, 2019.

An affidavit from Corrections Director Scott Frakes accompanying the motion says a prison team will be ready to carry out the execution within 30 days of receiving the death warrant.

On May 9, Corrections spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith told the Journal Star the execution team was in compliance with the requirements for training specified in the department's execution protocol.

The protocol calls for the execution team to meet every 6 months when no execution warrant has been issued, and weekly once a date has been set. Training must be documented, noting the date and duration, who supervised the training and the activities undertaken.

The execution warrant has been pending with the Supreme Court more than 7 weeks, since April.

Moore's death sentences have been final for 21 years, Peterson's motion said. Moore's four previous death warrants issued by the court were stayed or withdrawn for various reasons.

In addition, no stays of execution have been issued by a federal court.

Pending lawsuits and complaints are challenging the state's proposed executions, the department's lethal injection protocol and the constitutionality of the four-drug cocktail. The Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and ACLU of Nebraska have asked a Lancaster County district judge to direct the Department of Correctional Services to release information on lethal injection drugs, which the department has so far refused to do. A ruling on those lawsuits is pending.

Moore doesn't have any appeals pending, hasn't joined lawsuits over death-penalty protocols and is largely believed to be not fighting the sentence.

On Thursday, Moore asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss his attorneys in a case in which the state is seeking to carry out the death penalty against him.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said Friday that while it appears Moore has decided to stop fighting his execution, "it is precisely for this reason that our institutions bear extra responsibility to check themselves by ensuring that the laws are followed.

"It is undisputed that there are still multiple legal questions and actions pending that are related to the state's decision to rush toward an execution in secrecy," Conrad said.

Earlier this month, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, who leads the state's high court, gave the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy until May 29 to file a response to the state's request for an execution warrant for Moore.

Peterson said there's no reason to further delay issuing the requested death warrant.

Moore, 60, was sentenced to death on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in Douglas County in the 1979 deaths of 2 Omaha cab drivers Reuel Van Ness Jr. and Maynard Helgeland. He has been on death row 38 years.

If he is put to death, it would be Nebraska's 1st time carrying out capital punishment in 21 years. It also would be the 1st time the state would use lethal injection, and the 1st time in the country this particular 4-drug cocktail would be used.

Nebraska Corrections Department offers scant information on execution team training

Records maintained by the Nebraska Department of Corrections reveal that its execution team trained on 5 dates since the beginning of last year, and a specialized execution escort team trained on 4 dates.

ACLU of Nebraska filed a public-records request to find out what training members of the team have had in preparation for carrying out an execution.

Amy Miller, ACLU legal director, asked for documents generated between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 6 of this year, related to team training sessions, the IV team's performance of vein puncture and catheter placement, and communications among Director Scott Frakes, execution team members and doctors or medical experts about lethal injection.

FentanylThe department provided dates and duration of training for the escort team and the general execution team. The execution team trained on 5 dates for a total of 10 hours, 40 minutes. The specialized escort team trained 4 days for a total of 5 hours, 35 minutes. It sent no records of training for a specialized IV team nor acknowledged that such a team exists.

Prisons spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith, who responded to the records request, told the ACLU the department would not supply certificates, confidential training rosters or memos. There were no records of communications with doctors or medical experts about lethal injection, she said.

"The recently produced documents about training gives no adequate assurance that we would be looking at a smooth, well-conducted execution," Miller said.

Attorney General Doug Peterson on Friday asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to speed up its consideration of an execution warrant for condemned prisoner Carey Dean Moore, and to set the execution date for July 10.

An affidavit sent to the Supreme Court by Frakes said the execution team will be ready and able to carry out an execution within 30 days of the court's issuance of a death warrant. The team has been appointed and is qualified and trained as required, it said.

When asked for training information, Smith told the Journal Star simply that the department is in compliance with the protocol directives on training.

The protocol calls for the execution team to meet every 6 months when no execution warrant has been issued, and weekly when a date has been set. Training must be documented, noting the date and duration, who supervised the training and the activities undertaken.

ACLU Executive Director Danielle Conrad reaffirmed that the public interest in getting training records is not, as the attorney general's office has suggested, in identifying members of the execution team, but rather ensuring the law and best practices are being followed, at a minimum, as government seeks to carry out an execution.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, at least 39 executions by lethal injection have been "botched," the latest in February. Executioners in Alabama worked 2 1/2 hours trying to find a vein for condemned prisoner Doyle Lee Hamm in the lower parts of his body, and finally had to call off the execution. Hamm had injuries, pain and symptoms of post-traumatic stress in the days following.

Miller said many of the botched executions have been the indirect result of inadequate training or personnel without adequate experience.

Most notably, she said, trying to lay an intravenous line without a lot of prior experience can end in injecting the lethal drugs into a muscle, rather than a vein, making the execution prolonged and painful.

"The Supreme Court has said we can have executions as long as they are humane. They are not supposed to be painful or cause undue suffering," Miller said.

Without the Corrections Department being willing to produce more information, especially about the IV team, there is a concern about whether or not the execution team is ready to carry it out successfully and constitutionally, she said.

Miller said whether or not Nebraskans favor or oppose the death penalty, they have a right to know what the state is doing related to the execution, and if it will be carried out in a professional manner.

"The veil of secrecy that has dropped on all matters relating to the death penalty is very concerning," Miller said.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, May 25, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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