Capital punishment in Nebraska
In 2015, the state legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, overriding governor Pete Ricketts' veto. However, a petition drive secured enough signatures to suspend the repeal until a public vote. In the November 2016 general election, voters rejected the repeal measure, preserving capital punishment in the state.
Nebraska has currently 12 inmates on death row. All are convicted of either multiple murders or child murder.
Historically, hanging was the method Nebraska used until after 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 electrocution in Nebraska (his partner in crime, Alson Cole, would be executed 13 minutes later).
On February 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared in State v. Mata that electrocution constitutes a "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Nebraska Constitution. The state legislature subsequently approved a bill to change its method of execution to lethal injection, which was signed by governor Dave Heineman on May 28, 2009. Nebraska was the last state to adopt lethal injection as its execution method and the first was carried out on August 14, 2018.
A total of 38 individuals have been executed in Nebraska, including four after 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia.
The latest execution in the state was in August 2018, when Carey Dean Moore was executed by lethal injection for the murders of cabdrivers Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness Jr. 5 days apart in 1979.
Sodium thiopental controversy
A controversy happened in 2011 and 2012 when state officials imported sodium thiopental on two occasions from suppliers based in India and Switzerland. The furnishers said they discovered only after delivering the drugs that these would be used in judicial executions, prompting them to demand the return of the chemicals. The state refused, and engaged in a legal battle with the FDA and the suppliers to keep them. Since the drugs all expired in 2013 and became unusable, the state was unable to carry out any execution until it found another way to get the chemicals.
2015 repeal attempt
In May 2015, the unicameral Nebraska State Legislature voted 32–15 on a measure to abolish the death penalty in the state. The bill was introduced by senator Ernie Chambers, who had introduced similar pieces of legislation over prior decades. Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the legislation, but the legislature voted 30–19 to override the veto.
In the summer of 2015, an organization called "Nebraskans for the Death Penalty", gathered signatures on a petition to repeal the bill. Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, contributed one-third of the $913,000 raised by the group. The petition's organizers submitted 120,479 valid signatures, more than 10% of the registered voters in the state, and thus sufficient to suspend the bill and preserve the death penalty until a public vote could be held.
Death-penalty opponents then filed a lawsuit to cancel the referendum, arguing that Ricketts was the "primary initiating force" for the measure, and should have been included on the list of sponsors required by state law. In February 2016, a Lancaster County District Judge dismissed the lawsuit; in July 2016, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's dismissal. After this defeat, death-penalty opponents began a campaign to retain the repeal bill, and changed their name from "Nebraskans for Public Safety" to "Retain a Just Nebraska".
In the November 2016 general election, the death-penalty repeal was rejected by a 61-39 margin, thereby retaining capital punishment in the state.
Nebraska is the only state where the sentence of death is decided by a three-judge panel, rather than by jury or a single judge. The jury, however, is the trier of facts for both the murder and the aggravating factor making the defendant eligible for the death penalty.
The panel includes the presiding judge of the trial and two others judges appointed for that purpose by the state's chief justice. The death sentence must be unanimous, otherwise life imprisonment is imposed.
Death row inmates are housed at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (for males) and Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (for females). Executions have been carried out at Nebraska State Penitentiary (Lincoln) since 1903.
Aggravating factors making murder punishable by death are the following:
- The offender was previously convicted of another murder or a crime involving the use or threat of violence to the person, or has a substantial prior history of serious assaultive or terrorizing criminal activity;
- The murder was committed in an effort to conceal the commission of a crime, or to conceal the identity of the perpetrator of such crime;
- The murder was committed for hire, or for pecuniary gain, or the defendant hired another to commit the murder for the defendant;
- The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or manifested exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence;
- At the time the murder was committed, the offender also committed another murder;
- The offender knowingly created a great risk of death to at least several persons;
- The victim was a public servant having lawful custody of the offender or another in the lawful performance of his or her official duties and the offender knew or should have known that the victim was a public servant performing his or her official duties;
- The murder was committed knowingly to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of the laws; or
- The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the lawful performance of his or her official duties as a law enforcement officer and the offender knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a law enforcement officer.
Executions after 1976
|Executed person||Date of execution||Victims||Under Governor|
|1||Harold Lamont "Wili" Otey||September 2, 1994||Jane McManus||Ben Nelson|
|2||John Joseph Joubert A||July 17, 1996||Danny Eberle and Christopher Walden|
|3||Robert E. Williams B ||December 2, 1997||Catherine Brooks and Patricia McGarry|
|4||Carey Dean Moore||August 14, 2018||Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness Jr.||Pete Ricketts|
|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.|
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- Cory Matteson (November 29, 2011). "Maker of lethal injection drug wants it back". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
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- Ed Howard (May 16, 2012). "Bruning's death grip on sodium thiopental". McCook Daily Gazette. Retrieved February 7, 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.
- Joe Duggan (February 5, 2014). "Nebraska lacks drug for lethal injections, has no way to carry out executions". Omaha World Herald. Archived from the original on February 28, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 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.
- Kevin O'Hanlon (April 30, 2013). "Portion of Nebraska's supply of lethal injection drug set to expire". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
- Duggan, Joe; Cooper, Todd (May 27, 2015). "Nebraska senators override governor's veto, repeal death penalty". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
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- Nebraska Revised Statutes - Chapter 29 - CRIMINAL PROCEDURE - 29-2523 - Aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
- Inmate Details: 31861 -- Robert Williams. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
- Matthew Waite (December 3, 1997). "Williams marks state's third electrocution". Daily Nebraskan. Archived from the original on October 27, 2007. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- 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.