Capital punishment in Nebraska

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A total of 37 individuals have been executed in Nebraska including three since 1976, when the US Supreme Court allowed the resumption of executions. A total of 11 people are under a sentence of death in the state as of April 2013.[1] On February 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared electrocution to be "cruel and unusual punishment"[2] and on May 28, 2009, the state legislature adopted lethal injection as its execution method.[3]


The jury decides the sentence and may punish first-degree murder as a Class I felony or a Class IA felony. According to Nebraska law, Class I felonies mean death is the punishment and Class IA felonies mean life imprisonment without parole is the punishment. Death sentences are automatically appealed to a three-judge panel. The Governor of Nebraska sits on the board that determines clemency. 31 people have been given clemency including 11 since 1976. First-degree murder is the only Class I crime. The Nebraska State Penitentiary is where executions in Nebraska have taken place since 1903. As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime[4] or mentally challenged[5] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.


The sole method of execution in Nebraska is lethal injection.[6]


Historically, hanging was the method Nebraska used up until the execution of Albert Prince in 1913. After Prince's execution, a new law was passed requiring the electric chair as the method of execution. Allen Grammer was the first person executed by the electric chair in Nebraska (his partner in crime, Alson Cole would be executed 13 minutes later).[7] The most famous electrocution ever carried out in the state of Nebraska is that of mass murderer Charles Starkweather, whose 1958 killing spree with his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.

On February 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared in State v. Mata that electrocution constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Nebraska Constitution, effectively staying all death sentences in Nebraska.[8] The state legislature approved the bill to change its method of execution to lethal injection; Gov. Dave Heineman signed the bill on May 28, 2009. Nebraska was the last state to adopt lethal injection as execution method.[9]

Sodium thiopental controversy[edit]

Sodium thiopental is one part of the three-drug cocktail required by the State of Nebraska's lethal injection protocol.[10] The State has twice made overseas purchases of the drug, after the sole remaining domestic manufacturer, Hospira, Inc., opted to halt production due to concerns about the drug's use in executions from customers abroad.[11]

Nebraska's first sodium thiopental purchase was made through Kayem Pharmaceuticals, a supplier in India. The State paid Kayem $2,056 for 500 grams in December 2010[12] and received the supply the following month. Kayem later said it would no longer be supplying the drug for use in executions, citing the "ethos of Hinduism".[11] The DEA seized the supply,[13] and it was ultimately ruled that Nebraska had imported it illegally.[14]

On 3 November 2011, the Nebraska Department of Corrections announced it had made a second purchase of sodium thiopental, from two batches, received on 25 October. The batches were produced by Naari AG, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Switzerland.[12] The State received 485 grams, for which it paid $5,411.[15] 15 days after Nebraska's announcement, Prithi Kochhar, the CEO of Naari wrote a letter to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican[15] demanding the return of the drug, stating in part:

Naari did not supply these medicines directly to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and is deeply opposed to the use of the medications in executions [...] Mr. Harris misappropriated our medicines and diverted them from their intended purpose and use. [...] I am writing to request that the thiopental which was wrongfully diverted by Mr. Harris to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services be returned immediately to its rightful owners, that is, that it be returned to us at Naari.[16]

Kochhar alleged that the over 500 one-gram vials[17] of the drug had been provided to a Calcutta-based middleman, known as "Chris Harris", for use only in Zambia as an anaesthetic under medical conditions,[18] and that Harris was not authorized to provide the product to the Nebraska Department of Corrections. Naari issued a voluntary recall in May 2012, specifically aimed at the drugs in Nebraska's possession, saying, in part, that the drug had been "illegally diverted from the company's supply chain" and that they had no control over it.[19]

In April 2012, Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Leon issued a court order requiring Nebraska to surrender the Naari supply, citing that import of the drug had not been approved.[20] This was followed by an order from the FDA. The Nebraska Attorney General's office refused to release the drug to the FDA,[21] calling the court order "erroneous"[22] in a response letter to the agency, urging it to appeal the federal court order. The order was still in the process of appeals when both portions of the Naari supply expired, becoming unusable in executions.[23] The former portion expired in May 2013, and the latter that December.[24]

Capital offenses[edit]

Crimes considered capital offenses in Nebraska, punishable by death, are as follows:[citation needed]

  • First Degree Murder
    • First degree murder is killing another person by:
      • Murdering the person purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice.
      • Murdering the person in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any sexual assault in the first degree, arson, robbery, kidnapping, hijacking of any public or private means of transportation, or burglary.
      • Murdering the person by administering poison or causing the same to be done; or if by willful and corrupt perjury or subornation of the same he or she purposely procures the conviction and execution of any innocent person.

Individuals executed in Nebraska[edit]

Before 1903[edit]

A total of 14 individuals have been executed in Nebraska from its statehood in 1867 when counties carried out executions until 1903 when the state took over executions.

Executed person Date of execution Method Crime Victims Under Governor
1 Samuel Richards January 15, 1879 hanging murder Peter Anderson Albinus Nance
2 Orlando Caslar May 20, 1879 hanging murder George L. Monroe Albinus Nance
3 Milton W.Smith July 24, 1885 hanging murder his wife James W. Dawes
4 Jim Reynolds May 21, 1886 hanging murder James and John Pinkston James W. Dawes
5 William Jackson MarionA March 25, 1887 hanging murder James Cameron John Milton Thayer
6 David Hoffman July 22, 1887 hanging murder James B. DeWitt John Milton Thayer
7 Albert Haunstine May 17, 1891 hanging murder Hiram Roten and William Ashley John Milton Thayer
8 Christian FurstB June 5, 1891 hanging murder Carl J. Pulsifer John Milton Thayer
9 Charles ShepherdB June 5, 1891 hanging murder Carl J. Pulsifer John Milton Thayer
10 Ed Neil October 9, 1891 hanging murder Allen and Dorothy Jones John Milton Thayer
11 Clinton E. DixonC June 24, 1892 hanging murder Corporal Thomas Carter James E. Boyd
12 Harry Hill March 1, 1895 hanging murder Matthew Akeson Silas A. Holcomb
13 Claude H. Hoover August 7, 1896 hanging murder Samual DuBois Silas A. Holcomb
14 George W. Morgan October 8, 1897 hanging murder Ida Gaskill Silas A. Holcomb
A William Jackson Marion was convicted and executed for the murder of John Cameron. However, Cameron turned up alive in 1891. Marion received a posthumous pardon by Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey on the 100th anniversary of his execution.
B B Although Christian Furst and Charles Shepherd are listed at 8 and 9, they were both hanged together simultaneously in the only double hanging in Nebraska's history.
C Private Clinton Dixon and his victim Corporal Thomas Carter were both members of the U.S. Army (Sixth U.S. Cavalry) making Dixon's execution a U.S. military execution. As such, only the President could grant clemency. President Benjamin Harrison declined to intervene.


A total of 20 individuals were executed by Nebraska before the 1972 Supreme Court capital punishment ban.

Executed person Date of execution Method Crime Victims Under Governor
1 Gottlieb Neigenfiend March 13, 1903 hanging murder Anna Bryer and Albert Bryer (ex-wife and ex-father in law) John H. Mickey
2 William Rhea July 10, 1903 hanging murder Herman Zahn John H. Mickey
3 Harrison Clark December 13, 1907 hanging murder Ed Flury George L. Sheldon
4 Frank Barker January 17, 1908 hanging murder Daniel and Alice Barker (his brother and sister in law) George L. Sheldon
5 Robert M. Shumway March 5, 1909 hanging murder Sarah Martin Ashton C. Shallenberger
6 Bert M. Taylor January 28, 1910 hanging murder Pearl Taylor (sister in law) Ashton C. Shallenberger
7 Thomas Johnson May 19, 1911 hanging murder Henry R. Frankland Chester H. Aldrich
8 Albert Prince March 21, 1913 hanging murder Nebraska State Penitentiary Deputy Warden Edward D.Davis John H. Morehead
9 Allen V. GrammerA December 20, 1920 electric chair murder Lulu Vogt (Grammer's mother in law) Samuel R. McKelvie
10 Alson B. ColeA December 20, 1920 electric chair murder Lulu Vogt (Allen Grammer's mother in law) Samuel R. McKelvie
11 James B. King June 9, 1922 electric chair murder Nebraska State Penitentiary prison guard Robert L. Taylor Samuel R. McKelvie
12 Walter R. Simmons August 11, 1925 electric chair murder Frank Pahl Adam McMullen
13 Henry E. Bartlett April 29, 1927 electric chair murder Asa Ranson (Minden, Nebraska Police Chief) Adam McMullen
14 Frank Carter June 24, 1927 electric chair murder William McDevitt and Dr. A.D. Searles Adam McMullen
15 Frank E. Sharp January 19, 1928 electric chair murder Hariet Sharp (his wife) Adam McMullen
16 Henry Sherman May 31, 1929 electric chair murder Roger and Hattie Pochon, Eugenie Pochon Arthur J. Weaver
17 Joseph T. MacAvoy March 23, 1945 electric chair murder Anna Milroy Dwight Griswold
18 Timothy Iron Bear December 1, 1948 electric chair murder John W. and Grace Stollar Val Peterson
19 Roland Dean Sundahl April 30, 1952 electric chair murder Bonnie Lou Merrill Val Peterson
20 Charles StarkweatherB June 25, 1959 electric chair murder Robert Jensen Ralph G. Brooks
A A Allen Grammer and Alson Cole were the first men electrocuted, and the only double electrocution in Nebraska. Allen Grammer was the first man to be electrocuted by the State of Nebraska, pronounced dead at 3:24 pm. Alson Cole was pronounced dead at 3:37 pm.
B Although Charles Starkweather murdered 10 people in Nebraska (and one in Wyoming), he was tried, convicted, and executed for only one murder, that of 17 year old Robert Jensen.

After 1976[edit]

Three individuals convicted of murder have been executed by Nebraska since 1976. All were executed by the electric chair. On April 21, 2011, the Nebraska Supreme Court set the first execution date an execution via lethal injection for June 14, 2011. On May 26, 2011, the Nebraska Supreme Court stayed the execution due to objections that the sodium thiopental that Nebraska purchased from a Mumbai company failed to comply with U.S. pharmaceutical standards.

Executed person Race Date of execution Victims Under Governor
1 Harold Lamont "Wili" Otey Black September 2, 1994 Jane McManus Ben Nelson
2 John JoubertA White July 17, 1996 Danny Eberle and Christopher Walden Ben Nelson
3 Robert E. Williams B [25][26] Black December 2, 1997 Catherine Brooks and Patricia McGarry Ben Nelson
A John Joubert was also tried and convicted of murdering Ricky Stetson in Portland, Maine. He received a life sentence in Maine.
B Robert E. Williams also murdered Virginia Rowe of Sioux Rapids, Iowa.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fins, Deborah (1 April 2013). "Death Row U.S.A.: Spring 2013". The Criminal Justice Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. p. 53. 
  2. ^ Liptak, Adam (9 February 2008). "Electrocution Is Banned in Last State to Rely on It". New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  3. ^ R. Gerlach (13 September 2012). "LB 36: A Shot in the Arm for Lethal Injection". UNL Law Review Bulletin. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  5. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Joe Duggan (5 October 2013). "Bruning calls for Nebraska to change lethal injection protocol". Omaha World Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Kevin O'Hanlon (8 April 2011). "Death row lawyer asks for federal probe into Nebraska's purchase of lethal-injection drug". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved 7 February 2014. The only U.S. manufacturer of the drug, Hospira Inc., is ending production because of death-penalty opposition overseas. 
  12. ^ a b Kevin O'Hanlon (3 November 2011). "Nebraska gets new supply of lethal injection drug". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved 7 February 2014. Corrections officials said in December they had paid $2,056 to Kayem Pharmaceutical Pvt. Ltd. of India for 500 grams of sodium thiopental. 
  13. ^ "Company wants Neb. to return lethal injection drug". Associated Press. 30 November 2011. Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  14. ^ "Swiss pharmaceutical company issues recall of Nebraska lethal injection drug". Associated Press. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2014. Nebraska's first batch of the drug obtained from an India-based drug company in January 2011 was ruled to have been illegally imported. 
  15. ^ a b Cory Matteson (29 November 2011). "Maker of lethal injection drug wants it back". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  16. ^ Joe Duggan (30 November 2011). "Prison to keep execution drug". Omaha World Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  17. ^ Narayan Yakshman (5 March 2012). "It's official now: Nebraska set to use made-in-India drug in execution". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 February 2014. However although the import from Kayem was not approved by U.S. regulators Mr. Harris succeeded in procuring over 500 one-gram vials of thiopental – enough to kill 166 men – for the NDCS. 
  18. ^ Maya Foa (8 March 2012). "Why is India forced to play henchman to the Nebraska executioner?". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2014. The US state of Nebraska is fighting to be allowed to carry out an execution using drugs manufactured in India, which the manufacturer believed were bound for sub-Saharan Africa for legitimate medical use. 
  19. ^ Kevin O'Hanlon (9 May 2012). "Company recalls Nebraska's lethal injection drug". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved 7 February 2014. "The product is being recalled from the market because it was illegally diverted from the company's supply chain and has been outside the company's control in breach of Naari AG's established standard operating practices," Naari AG says in a document sent to the FDA. 
  20. ^ Margery A. Beck (20 April 2012). "Neb. refuses order to surrender execution drug". Associated Press. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  21. ^ "Nebraska: State Will Not Surrender Execution Drug". Associated Press. 21 April 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  22. ^ Ed Howard (16 May 2012). "Bruning's death grip on sodium thiopental". McCook Daily Gazette. Retrieved 7 February 2014. "Other than the court's erroneous order, we are unaware of any evidence or reasons why the Department of Correctional Services should be required to return any thiopental in its possession," Bruning told the FDA. 
  23. ^ Joe Duggan (5 February 2014). "Nebraska lacks drug for lethal injections, has no way to carry out executions". Omaha World Herald. Retrieved 7 February 2014. Nebraska prison officials have not replaced a lethal injection drug that expired late last year, meaning the state currently has no way to carry out an execution. 
  24. ^ Kevin O'Hanlon (30 April 2013). "Portion of Nebraska's supply of lethal injection drug set to expire". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  25. ^ Inmate Details: 31861 -- Robert Williams. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  26. ^ a b Matthew Waite (3 December 1997). "Williams marks state's third electrocution". Daily Nebraskan. Archived from the original on 27 Oct 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Baldus, D.C. et al. (2001). The disposition of Nebraska capital and non-capital homicide cases (1973-1999): a legal and empirical analysis. Lincoln, Neb.: Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

External links[edit]