A University of Nebraska law professor questions the four-drug protocol Nebraska proposes for its first execution in 20 years.
University of Nebraska – Lincoln law professor Eric Berger, a capital punishment expert, has reviewed the lethal injection drugs Nebraska proposes to use in the execution of Jose Sandoval.
“Well, it’s an extremely unusual protocol. There’s nothing like this that has ever been used before,” Berger tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Berger says no state has proposed a four-drug protocol for lethal injection before. In addition, three of the four drugs have never been used in executions before, raising the very real possibility of a legal challenge to the state proposal.
Most states which carry out executions on a regular basis have used a standard, court tested, three-drug protocol. Neighboring Missouri used sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Sodium thiopental renders the inmate unconscious, pancuronium bromide stops the breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart, causing death.
State courts have raised questions about that three-drug protocol, some questioning whether the states can be sure it doesn’t cause excruciating pain. States also have found it difficult to obtain sodium thiopental. Manufacturers of the drug have often refused to sell to states planning to use it for executions. Such obstacles have caused states to switch to a one-drug protocol, sometimes produced through a compounding method. Missouri has used pentobarbital in executions.
The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services proposes using diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate, and potassium chloride administered intravenously in that order. Berger says only potassium chloride has been used in executions.
Berger says Nevada has proposed a similar protocol to that announced by Nebraska only using three drugs, but a Nevada judge has blocked the state from carrying out the execution using that protocol.
“So, to that extent, Nebraska here seems to be moving in a direction opposite from a trend, I think,” Berger says. “There are still a handful of states that use the three-drug protocol, but most of the states that carry out executions on a regular basis don’t anymore.”
State law requires corrections officials to give a condemned inmate 60 days’ notice before the Attorney General can request the Nebraska Supreme Court set an execution date.
Sandoval received a death sentence after being convicted on five counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of five people in the Norfolk bank robbery in September of 2002. Prosecutors say Sandoval led a group of four men who attempted to rob the bank. He shot and killed three of the victims.
Nebraska held its last execution in 1997.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]