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Nebraska Death Row

Nebraska's lethal injection chamber at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

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

The department provided dates and duration of training for the escort team and the general execution team. The execution team trained on five dates for a total of 10 hours, 40 minutes. The specialized escort team trained four 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 six 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 2½ 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. 

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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. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

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

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