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Nebraska's attorney general has chosen Norfolk killer Jose Sandoval as the next condemned prisoner to die, after a 20-year hiatus in executions in this state.

No request to the Nebraska Supreme Court for an execution warrant has been made, but Corrections Director Scott Frakes served notice to Sandoval on Thursday of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place. 

That combination of drugs chosen has never been used in an execution.

State regulations require the prisons chief to notify condemned inmates 60 days prior to the attorney general requesting an execution warrant. 

Attorney General Doug Peterson said he is prepared to request the Supreme Court issue Sandoval's execution warrant after at least 60 days have elapsed from the notice.

Corrections officials have chosen a new protocol for administering lethal injection drugs and have purchased diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracuriam besylate and potassium chloride. 

The drugs were purchased in the United States and received into the department's inventory Oct. 10, said Dawn-Renee Smith, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

She would not name the company or suppliers from which they were purchased, or say whether the supplier was local or a compounding company. The Journal Star is pursuing the answers to those and other questions.

Nevada has a similar drug protocol, but uses three drugs: fentanyl, diazepam and cisatracurium. That protocol is in question after a judge said Wednesday she may cut a paralytic (cisatracurium) from the state’s previously untried lethal injection plan, after hearing that it could mask movements reflecting awareness and pain, according to The Associated Press.

The Nebraska department has tested its drugs for quality, according to a Corrections news release.

Sandoval, 38, is housed on death row at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. He was convicted and sentenced to death 13 years ago for killing five people at the U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk in September 2002. 

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, said in spite of the notice he doubted an execution was going to be carried out any time soon.

He and others need to know where the drugs came from, and whether there was a private compounding company manufacturing them, he said. 

Other issues that have to be resolved, he said, include whether or not this combination of drugs has been used anywhere else, even though that would not bind Nebraska; whether or not the combination of drugs would be effective in accomplishing an execution; and whether they were designed to be used to take someone's life.

The Associated Press reported in April that a German pharmaceutical company spokesman said the potassium chloride the Nebraska Corrections Department had purchased in 2015 was not intended to be sold to a state corrections department. A distributor had tried unsuccessfully to get the department to return the drugs.

The fact that the department is withholding certain information, Chambers said, indicates it is not fully transparent and may feel there are weaknesses in what it is doing.

Chambers charged that the notice of intended execution drugs is timed to coincide with Gov. Pete Ricketts re-election campaign. 

Ricketts responded, saying: "Last year the people of Nebraska reaffirmed that the death penalty remains an important part of protecting public safety in our state."

Thursday's announcement is the next step to carrying out the sentences ordered by the court, he said. 

ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said the organization was “horrified" that the department planned to use Sandoval as a "test subject for an untested and experimental lethal injection cocktail."

"This rash decision will not fix the problems with Nebraska’s broken death penalty and are a distraction from the real issues impacting Nebraska’s Department of Corrections: an overcrowded, crisis-riddled system," she said.

America is a nation turning away from the death penalty, Conrad said, with more and more states seeing that ending capital punishment means improving public safety. Fiscal conservatives, faith leaders and public safety officials are increasingly leading efforts to replace the death penalty.

“The ACLU will continue to discuss the state’s misguided plan with experts locally and nationally and evaluate the grave constitutional, legal and policy questions associated with this untested protocol,” she said.

The attorney general said in a statement he agrees with the notice that was given to Sandoval.

"Sandoval planned the Sept. 26, 2002, Norfolk bank robbery when, in less than a minute, five innocent people were brutally shot and killed," Peterson said in a news release.

The dead included bank employees and customers. Sandoval personally killed three people, two more people were killed, and three more were in the midst of the gunfire that day. Sandoval’s crimes were captured on video.

The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld Sandoval’s convictions and death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court then denied further review of the sentence. Sandoval never filed any challenges to the Supreme Court decisions, Peterson said.

The last execution in Nebraska was Robert Williams in December 1997. It was carried out using the electric chair. 


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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