Lincoln senator offers clearer guidelines for witnessing execution

January 16, 2019 GMT

A Lincoln senator wants to involve state senators in witnessing state-sponsored executions and increase transparency of the process.

“We are in charge of the laws, and because of that I think we have the highest duty to make sure that the laws are carried out in the most appropriate and transparent way possible,” said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks.

The bill (LB238) would require that two members of the Legislature be present to view an execution from the time the condemned prisoner enters the execution chamber to the time he or she is pronounced dead or the execution is halted.


During that time, no one would be allowed to obstruct the view of the witnesses to the execution process.

During the execution of Carey Dean Moore in August, about 15 minutes into the procedure, the curtains closed and did not open again for 14 minutes. That was six minutes after Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon pronounced Moore dead at 10:47 a.m., and 29 minutes after the first lethal injection drug, diazepam, was administered at 10:24 a.m.

“I think that what happened this last time was totally shocking to me,” Pansing Brooks said. “I don’t believe they (prison officials) followed the law and if they need it more clearly written, this shouldn’t be surprising.

“We are not going to sit and let the government tell us, ‘Trust us, we did it properly.’ If that’s so, then let us watch and make sure that that is happening properly.”

Corrections Department Director Scott Frakes has said the members of the execution team cannot be disclosed. That’s the reasoning he used to keep records of the lethal injection drugs from public disclosure, and for closing the curtains during certain parts of the procedure.

If there is concern about those on the execution team being seen while conducting the execution, Pansing Brooks’ bill says, they could request to wear a mask or somehow conceal their identity from witnesses.

The execution team is the Corrections director, the Nebraska State Penitentiary warden, the public-information officer, a team to provide secure escort for the condemned prisoner, two people to administer the IV drugs and a pharmacist or pharmaceutical chemist.

During Moore’s execution, witnesses were shielded from viewing those 14 minutes. Death penalty observers said it hindered transparency and true reporting of the effects of the drugs.


Frakes explained those 14 minutes to a grand jury in December, saying that after the fourth drug was given, the curtains were closed out of respect as the other execution team members were brought in.

During that time, Frakes and Acting Warden Robert Madsen waited five minutes to ensure there was no question the drugs had the chance to circulate in Moore’s body and had the expected effect.

State Patrol Investigator Stacie Lundgren, pathologist Robert Bowen and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Capt. Thomas Brookhouser examined Moore, and Condon, as the county coroner, declared he was dead. That took 11 minutes, Frakes said.

The last few minutes was the transition as the coroner and execution team left.

“It isn’t the government’s power to decide which part they are going to be transparent about,” Pansing Brooks said. “I think the law was clear that it was supposed to be a witnessing of the execution.”

Since Nebraska voters said the state is allowed to kill somebody, then the state has the grave responsibility of witnessing it properly, she said, and making sure the human being it is about to kill is treated humanely.

Pansing Brooks’ bill was introduced Monday, along with 37 other bills and a resolution. Other proposals introduced on the third day of bill introduction included:

Guard life insurance

Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston sponsored legislation (LB223) to create a state-funded life insurance policy for members of the Nebraska National Guard.

No cellphones in prison

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a bill (LB233) prohibiting visitors, employees or any other person from bringing a cellphone or mobile device into a jail or prison. Confiscated items would be turned over to the Nebraska State Patrol.

Disclose lottery odds

A bill (LB252) by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist would require all lottery advertisements to disclose the odds of winning the largest prize “in a clear and conspicuous manner” in text not less than 35 percent of the largest font used in the advertisement.

Redistricting prep

The state would appoint an Independent Redistricting Citizen’s Advisory Commission under a bill (LB253) from Omaha Sen. John McCollister. The commission would be made up of two members from each of Nebraska’s three legislative caucuses, with no more than three members representing the same political party, as well as a chairperson “who is not affiliated with any political party.” The commission would submit plans for the redistricting of legislative and congressional seats for the decade beginning 2021.

Convention of states

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings introduced a resolution (LR7) calling for a convention of the states under Article V of the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of proposing amendments that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and create term limits for members of Congress.