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Nebraska Loses Electric Chair Case

May 8, 2000

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A judge upheld Nebraska’s death penalty law Monday, but ruled that the procedure used during electrocutions amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Ruling in a case of a convicted killer awaiting a possible death sentence, Scotts Bluff County District Judge Robert Hippe criticized state prison officials’ practice of using four separate jolts of electricity to execute inmates.

The judge upheld the state’s death penalty law itself, which calls for a current of electricity to be administered continuously until the prisoner dies.

``Electrocutions according to the protocol established by law would not result in infliction of unnecessary pain, torture or a lingering death,″ Hippe wrote. ``If the executive branch of government can assure that the protocol ... removes the potential for infliction of unnecessary pain, the death penalty may properly apply to this case.″

Jerry Soucie, the attorney for a Scottsbluff man convicted of killing and dismembering his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son, had argued during a two-day hearing that the intermittent use of electricity is akin to torture.

Expert witnesses testified that the brief delays give the body time to recover and increase the chance the person will feel pain.

The state attorney general’s office has promised to appeal any ruling declaring the electric chair unconstitutional. Deputy Scotts Bluff County attorney Doug Warner, who defended Nebraska’s law at the hearing, declined to comment Monday.

Nebraska and Alabama are the only states that have the electric chair as their only means of execution. Georgia and Florida both changed their primary means of execution from the electric chair to lethal injection this year.

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