As Nebraska has notified a convicted killer of the drugs it plans to use to carry out the first capital punishment in 20 years, let’s look at what’s known – and what remains unknown.
We know the man condemned to die, Jose Sandoval, never deserves to leave prison alive. Words fail to describe the evil of his role as mastermind and triggerman in the horrific 2002 robbery of a Norfolk bank that left five innocent people dead, three of whom Sandoval himself shot.
Even though he carried out a gruesome, senseless murder for which he deserves to be punished until his dying day, the circumstances that could bring about his final breath sooner rather than later remain troublingly murky.
We don’t know how the four-drug cocktail named in the notice served to Sandoval on Thursday by Corrections Director Scott Frakes works since it has never before been used in an execution. All we know is the department’s claim in a news release that the substances “have been tested according” to state law.
We don’t know the fate of most similar protocol – Nevada’s also untried method uses all but one of the same drugs as Nebraska – which remains in limbo after a judge expressed concerns the paralytic could mask movements reflecting pain and awareness.
Furthermore, Nebraska insists on shrouding in secrecy the sourcing and cost of its lethal injection drugs. We don’t know anything about where they were made beyond Corrections’ promise they were manufactured in the U.S.
Following Nebraska’s high-profile embarrassment of spending more than $50,000 in 2015 to obtain sodium thiopental from a shady businessman in India that couldn’t legally be imported, Nebraskans must know how the state was supplied with the drugs – yet the Legislature is attempting to pass a bill that prevents information on lethal injections from reaching the public.
Despite Nebraskans’ desire for capital punishment, as evidenced by last year’s successful petition drive to reinstate the practice, far too little of the execution process remains known two decades after Robert Williams was put to death in the electric chair.
As much as some people may want to inflict upon Sandoval the same fate he caused Lisa Bryant, Lola Elwood, Jo Mausbach, Samuel Sun and Evonne Tuttle 15 years ago, killers such as Sandoval remain protected from cruel and unusual punishment by the U.S. Constitution. We know that he would be, in essence, a guinea pig for this particular method of execution.
Sandoval and the other 10 men on Nebraska’s death row – including two involved in the Norfolk robbery, where greed and selfishness took five innocent lives – are the most heinous of criminals in the state’s modern memory. Despite the ghastly nature of their crimes, subjecting one to an unknown means of capital punishment is too deeply concerning to be supported.