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Efficient Death Doesn't Make it Right

July 26, 2010 | Lincoln Journal Star Editorial Board

We take little comfort in the state’s apparently efficient preparation, in this case, of the state’s remodeled execution chamber.

Earlier this month, the state gave news media an introduction to the place where people used to die in the electric chair.

Now, it’s equipped to use lethal injection.

This newspaper stands against the death penalty.

But it is the law in Nebraska. Wrong though we may believe it to be, it is important for the state to be as transparent as possible about it.

So we thank state officials for being forthright about a process we oppose.

The reporting from that news media introduction was as hard and spare as the death chamber itself.

“Everything is in place to carry out an execution, except for the three drugs that would be used,” our reporter wrote. They have been ordered, but a worldwide shortage of one of the drugs, sodium thiopental, has delayed delivery, Department of Correctional Services Director Robert Houston said.

Houston and Warden Dennis Bakewell did not take questions on execution issues, other than to refer journalists to the written protocol and procedures documents.

“We felt it’s important for the public to see the room itself, the equipment we have, and for discussion of the protocol to take place so the public knows that should a date be set by the courts, the department is well-prepared to carry out its responsibility,” Houston said.

Nebraskans should know how the state is prepared to carry out the grisly task of executing the next person on death row whose time runs out.

No dates are set for any of the dozen inmates on death row in Tecumseh.

The description and pictures of the stark chamber drove home its purpose: to take a person’s life in the name of the state and all its citizens.

“A camera is mounted in the ceiling above the inmate’s head to monitor the injections.”

The witness room has a floor-to-ceiling foldable partition to separate those who are there to represent the inmate and those there for the victim or victims.

How considerate.

The Nebraska Legislature approved lethal injection as the state’s method of execution in May 2009, after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment.

We understand that state law now prescribes lethal injection to get around that court’s admonition, but we fail to see how the Department of Correctional Services protocol is any less cruel and unusual: the injection of sodium thiopental to render the inmate unconscious, pancuronium bromide to paralyze muscles and stop breathing, and, finally, potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Some medical experts challenge the procedures as not reasonably ensuring that the condemned is rendered unconscious and remains unconscious throughout the procedure.

The details become secondary when the capital punishment itself is repugnant to civilized people, arguably immoral and applied in patterns that are demonstrably unjust.

The Journal Star maintains its opposition to capital punishment.

We are pleased to see that the Lincoln Journal Star remains firmly on the side of justice for all Nebraskans in their support for repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska. To help amplify this important message we are calling on all our supporters to submit a Letter to the Editor of you local paper stating your support for repeal of the death penalty.


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