LINCOLN — The Nebraska attorney general has chosen Norfolk bank robber Jose Sandoval as the next condemned prisoner to die, after a 20-year hiatus in executions.
No request to the Nebraska Supreme Court for an execution warrant has been made, but Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes served notice Thursday to Sandoval of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place.
State regulations require the prisons chief to notify condemned inmates 60 days prior to the attorney general requesting an execution warrant from the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Corrections officials would seek to inject diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracuriam besylate and potassium chloride. Diazepam is a sedative better known as Valium, fentanyl is an opioid, cisatracurium is a muscle relaxant that causes paralysis and potassium chloride stops the heart.
Nevada has a similar drug protocol.
The drugs were purchased in the United States and received into the department's inventory on Oct. 10, according to Dawn-Renee Smith, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
She would not name the company or suppliers from which the drugs were purchased. The department has the drugs and has tested them, according to a news release.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, said he doubts an execution will 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 the drugs, 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. Also 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 fact that the department is withholding certain information indicates that it is not fully transparent and may feel there are weaknesses in what they are doing, he said.
Chambers charged that the notice of intended execution drugs is timed to coincide with Gov. Pete Ricketts' re-election campaign.
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.
Sandoval, 38, who is housed on death row at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, was convicted and sentenced to death 13 years ago for killing five people at the Norfolk U.S. Bank branch in September 2002.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement he agrees with the notice that was given to Sandoval, who planned the Sept. 26, 2002, bank robbery where five employees and customers were killed in less than a minute.
The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld Sandoval’s convictions and death penalty sentences and the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review of the sentences.
Sandoval never filed any challenges to the Supreme Court decisions, Peterson said.
Peterson said he is prepared to request the Nebraska Supreme Court issue Sandoval's execution warrant after at least 60 days have passed.
The last execution in Nebraska was Robert Williams in December 1997. It was carried out with an electric chair.