Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nebraska Abolishes Electrocution

Nebraska was the last state in the country with the Electric Chair as its sole method of capital punishment, until yesterday, when the Nebraska Supreme Court effectively relegated "old sparky" to the museum of Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

Calling the use of electricity “unnecessarily cruel in its purposeless infliction of physical violence and mutilation of the prisoner’s body," the court tossed out electricity as the method of execution in Nebraska, and may have ended its "alternative use" method in several other states as a result (note: all states with a capital punishment statute rely on lethal injection, but some offer "alternatives" to the inmate, including hanging, gas chamber, firing squad and the electric chair).

In an incredibly detailed opinion, the Nebraska high court walked through the intricacies of the electrocution process, tracing the path of the current and the destruction to the human body which results. Their encyclopedia-like conclusion that it is "without question torture," that the prisoner is more than likely conscious during much of the process, and is often "breathing" after the first series of jolts, is difficult to refute, and jarring to read.

Where Nebraska goes from here will be interesting. As opposed to adopting a lethal injection, three-drug protocol (currently under review with SCOTUS), they could adopt a veterinary-like single drug concoction, or possibly something altogether new.

Nebraska is a very conservative state, so abolishment of the death penalty in total seems unlikely, but as the Times blurb notes, their unicameral legislature came within one vote of dumping it altogether just last year.

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