Transparency died in Nebraska Aug. 10, 2018
Aug. 10, 2018. The day transparency died in Nebraska.
So, while many of you were complaining about POTUS or Congress, here’s what happened in Lincoln on that day that should be a bigger concern. A federal judge ruled that the state can kill one of its citizens despite the protests of a drug company that didn’t want its products used for such purposes. And, he said, the state doesn’t have to reveal where it got the drugs in the first place.
In Lancaster County District Court, a judge ruled that a legislative committee cannot exercise legal rights granted to it and subpoena a state official to answer questions about the aforementioned drug protocol.
In doing so, the judge sided with what’s believed to be a first-ever lawsuit from the state Attorney General against the Legislature. The Legislature’s special legal counsel, retired state Supreme Court Justice William Connolly, said it was the first he’s seen in some 50 years of practice.
Do I have your attention yet?
That’s the death of transparency. The courts just gave state government the right to do things in secret. No disclosure. “We don’t have to answer your stinking questions.”
But wait, there’s more. Aug. 14, the day the state killed death row inmate Carey Dean Moore, it took 29 minutes from the first injection to the pronouncement of death. The curtain separating the witnesses from the death chamber was closed for 14 minutes.
Thus, whether the execution of Moore with a unique set of drugs went smoothly or not has been left to speculation, not only in the state but around the country—subject to the spin of opponents and supporters alike.
Members of the media who witnessed Moore’s death by lethal injection described his reactions to the drugs as rapid and heaving breaths, coughing, gradual reddening of the face and hands and then a purple cast to the skin.
About 15 minutes into the procedure, about a minute after Moore’s eyelids appeared to open slightly, Corrections Director Scott Frakes, who was in the room with the condemned prisoner, said something into his radio and the curtains closed for the media witnesses. The curtains did not open again for 14 minutes, six minutes after Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon pronounced Moore dead.
The curtain closing is significant since it hindered transparency and true reporting of the effects of the drugs. One of the media witnesses, Brent Martin of Nebraska Radio Network, said in Missouri, where he witnessed 13 executions, the curtain was open the entire time of the execution until the declaration of death.
Longtime death penalty opponent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha likened the 14 minutes to the problematic 18.5 missing minutes from the White House secret tapes during the Nixon-Watergate era. You can bet the topic will come up numerous times during the next legislative session. And well it should.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the national Death Penalty Information Center, said what happened in Nebraska was the least transparent of any execution in recent times.
“Nobody drops the curtain so that you cannot see the moments when the prisoner dies,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star. “That’s why you have witnesses, so they can see and report what happens.”
Controversy arising from the action is a product of Nebraska’s lack of transparency, Dunham said.
Afterward, Corrections Director Scott Frakes read a statement. But he didn’t answer questions. He didn’t look well. Maybe he had to go throw up.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement. Governor Ricketts was out of the state and later issued a written statement about law and order and public safety and the will of the people. That would be the people who voted on the election he and his family paid for.
What about the will of the 60,000 people who signed petitions asking Ricketts to stop the execution?
The Nebraska ACLU said, “Nebraskans of goodwill have different beliefs about the death penalty, but it is troubling and curious why Governor Ricketts made the death penalty his signature issue.”
Former legislative candidate Melody Vaccaro of Lincoln posted her concerns on Facebook: “If the executive branch can kill a man without following all the rules, I’m left to wonder what happens next. Are we truly ok with a government like that?”
Troubling and curious indeed. Be afraid Nebraskans. Be very afraid.
Nebraska. The Good Life. If we don’t kill you.