Nebraska Death Penalty News

Started by Jeff1857, March 14, 2008, 12:03:42 AM

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Neb. AG wants lethal injection procedure outlinee

The state corrections department would devise the lethal recipe and administration of drugs to execute prisoners if the recommendation of Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is followed.

In a report released on Tuesday, Bruning recommends the department be given leeway to create the drug cocktail instead of spelling it out in state law.

During the session that begins Wednesday, lawmakers will consider approving lethal injection as the state's lone means of execution. Last year the state Supreme Court declared the state's use of the electric chair unconstitutional.

Bruning's office says his recommendation would let professionals create and possibly change an execution protocol so that it follows national practices.

(source: Associated Press)



Death Penalty Debate Might Include Right To DNA Tests / Experienced Counsel

The Legislature's debate on the death penalty could be something more in 2009 than the expected up-or-down vote on whether to kill condemned inmates with drugs. The state Supreme Court last year banned doing it with the electric chair.

The debate could involve giving defendants in death penalty cases the unfettered right to DNA testing which might prove their innocence, along with a guarantee of never getting a court-appointed defense lawyer who has never previously participated in a potential death penalty case.

"It seems to me that all we are talking about here is basic fairness, just things to try to make sure we don't kill innocent people," said Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing.

The 49-member Legislature, including 16 newly lawmakers, convened Wednesday for a session limited by the state constitution to 90 working days. Sen. Mike Flood was unanimously elected to a second term as Speaker of the Legislature.

Dierks opposes the death penalty with the same fervor he brings to his longtime fight against the abortion rights spelled out in Roe v. Wade. That means he is subject to criticism from both camps.

Life is life, Dierks said, and only the Almighty should give it or take it away. And he doesn't see execution or abortion as carrying out God's will. There are 10 people on death row in Nebraska.

He pointed to a recent Nebraska case where DNA testing proved the innocence of a man who was in the 19th year of a life sentence for 1st-degree murder. Several others were convicted of lesser crimes related to the same murder after they pleaded guilty and confessed - in the face of prosecution threats to seek the death penalty in their cases.

"What if that man had been executed?" Dierks said. "And look at the cases all around the country where DNA proved people on death row were innocent? What if the death penalty had been used, quickly, in those cases? It's just not right."

"It shouldn't be up to a judge to say if a DNA test can be made when someone accused of murder wants one," he said.

In the Nebraska case referred to by Dierks, a lower court judge had denied a request for further DNA testing during the convicted man's last appeal. The state Supreme Court reversed that decision. Subsequent DNA tests led to his release, and an acknowledgement by authorities, including state Attorney General Jon Bruning, that the government had erred.

Dierks also said the Legislature should probably consider requiring that court-appointed lawyers, in potential death penalty cases, have some previous experience in such cases, such as having helped another attorney who was "lead counsel" in one or more such cases.

With surveys showing that a substantial majority of Nebraskans and state lawmakers favoring the death penalty, and approving lethal injection as the tool for it, Dierks doesn't think he can repeal the law, or even block the move toward lethal injection.

"I've always understood the majority rules on this," Dierks said. "I will try to change people's mind, but I won't be screaming and yelling; just trying to convince people that I'm right. This governor seems to be calling the shots on this, and he wants the death penalty."

Republican Gov. Dave Heineman favors lethal injection.

Dierks won't try to filibuster death penalty related measures, in the fashion of former longtime Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a firebrand who brought legislation to repeal the death penalty in everyone of his record-setting 38 years in the Unicameral. Term limits forced Chambers out of the Legislature this year.

Chambers opposed the death penalty on several grounds. The process, he argued, was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable - all the way from the time of arrest to the death chamber. Everything is weighted against the poor, and especially racial minorities, he said. That includes the bringing of murder charges, to prosecutors deciding to seek the death penalty, to death sentences, to appeals, to the carrying out of executions.

(source: Nebraska


Speaker introducing lethal injection bill

A powerful ally has joined the push to adopt lethal injection as the means to carry out Nebraska's death penalty.

State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the 49-member Legislature, said today that he would introduce the controversial measure in the session that opened Wednesday.

The speaker sets the agenda for legislative debate, and his support could improve the odds for passage of a lethal injection bill. Bills on the subject have been introduced and shot down for nearly 2 decades.

Gov. Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning, two other supporters of lethal injection, held a press conference this morning to announce their support for the measure.

"Nebraska needs a legal means of execution," Heineman said. "There is broad support for the death penalty in our state and this issue needs to be resolved during this legislative session. Speaker Flood has my full support."

Nebraska has been without a legal means to carry out capital punishment for 11 months, since the State Supreme Court ruled that electrocution, via the state's electric chair, was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

The most heinous murderers deserve the death penalty, and the state needs a legal means to carry it out, said Flood, whose hometown saw 4 U.S. Bank employees and 1 customer gunned down in a botched 2002 robbery.

"I was outside the bank that day, and I know those were innocent victims," said the senator, an attorney and a former radio news reporter. "That was a heinous, callous, senseless act of terrorism."

Proposals to change Nebraska's mode of execution date to at least 1993, but they were regularly thwarted by State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an ardent death-penalty foe who used filibusters and other procedural tactics to stave off advancement of lethal injection bills.

Term limits removed Chambers this year. And the Supreme Court's ruling has brought urgency to the issue. 10 men -- including 3 convicted in the Norfolk bank killings -- are currently on death row.

A special session on lethal injection was not called last year, in part because Chambers would be gone by this session.

An official with Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty has urged legislators to move slowly in debating the issue.

Jill Francke, statewide coordinator of the group, cited the added expense of death penalty cases. She also pointed to the wrongful convictions of 6 people in a 1985 Beatrice, Neb., murder as a reason lawmakers should repeal capital punishment.

36 states employ lethal injection as a means of execution. Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 3-drug protocol used in Kentucky as constitutional.

29 of 40 Nebraska legislators who answered a pre-session World-Herald survey said they supported a switch to lethal injection.

The issue's biggest hurdle might be in the Judiciary Committee, which would consider bills involving capital punishment. The tentative makeup of the eight-member committee, announced late Wednesday, includes only 2 members who voiced support for lethal injection in the survey.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


I checked the Nebraska Legislature's website and as of the end of last week, the bill had not yet been introduced. However, the bill filing deadline for general legislation is still several weeks away. Indeed, Speaker Mike Flood is the most influential of Nebraska's state senators. The speaker (or his designee) presides over the daily floor sessions of the 49-member unicameral body in the absence of the state's lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor is the constitutionally-mandated presiding officer of the unicameral body.

It is anticipated that Nebraska lawmakers will pass legislation that will allow the state to conduct executions utilizing lethal injection as the primary means. In a pre-session survey undertaken by the Associated Press, a majority of the senators indicated they would be in favor of such a change in the law.


Will Nebraska copy the Kentucky protocol as close to verbatim as possible? It would seem the surest way for Nebraska's lethal-injection procedure to be upheld under the Baze decision.


The bill that will change Nebraska's mode of carrying out an execution from electrocution to lethal injection is still bottled up in the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. The last update was when the committee held a public hearing on the bill in January.

I have no idea why they're deliberately stalling on this. It seems to me this should be a formality, but instead this has become quite apparently a political hot potato which nobody really wants to touch.

Surprising in that a pre-session survey indicated a majority of the single-chamber Legislature's 49 members were in favor of legislation to change Nebraska's method of execution. 


Legislative panel fails to advance lethal injection bill

A bill designed to change the method of execution in Nebraska failed to advance Wednesday to the full Legislature.

The vote by the Judiciary Committee makes it uncertain whether lawmakers will debate a bill this year that would switch the method to lethal injection from electrocution.

"We made a mistake today. The bill should have moved," said State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who was one of four committee members who supported advancing Legislative Bill 36.

But 5 votes were needed, and 4 registered "not voting": Sens. Steve Lathrop and Brenda Council of Omaha, Tekamah Sen. Kent Rogert and Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill.

Nebraska has been without a legal means to carry out its death penalty since the state Supreme Court ruled a year ago that death in the electric chair amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Lathrop argued against advancement, saying the Legislature ought to conduct an interim study to address other flaws in the death penalty system rather than just adopting "a method for killing people with needle."

He called the death penalty "an illusion" because very few of those convicted of heinous crimes are ever executed -- after millions of dollars are spent in legal costs and victims' families undergo an emotional "roller coaster."

State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, the committee chairman, said the panel now must work with the bill's sponsor, Speaker of the Legislature Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, to break the logjam.

Ashford has been pushing an amendment that would narrow who qualifies for the death penalty, requiring, in most cases, that two aggravating circumstances - such as the heinous nature of the murder or multiple murders - be proven to sentence someone to die.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


Neb. lethal-injection bill stuck in committee

Disagreements between key lawmakers are blocking a bill to change Nebraska's method of execution to lethal injection.

The bill (LB36) from Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk failed to advance in the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It hasn't been killed, but it won't move to the whole body.

Nebraska can't carry out death sentences, because the state Supreme Court ruled last year that state use of the electric chair is unconstitutional.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha wants Flood to agree to change the bill, making it harder for the state to impose the death penalty. He says capital punishment is expensive and applied unevenly.

A bill (LB306) to repeal the death penalty hasn't been advanced by the committee either.

On the Net: Nebraska Legislature:

(source: The Associated Press)


March 24, 2009, 04:39:33 PM Last Edit: March 25, 2009, 01:45:35 AM by Rick4404
Since it looks like Nebraska won't be using its electric chair anytime soon, the city of McCook, Neb. says it would like to take the chair off the state's hands and think it could become a tourist attraction. A spokesperson for the state department of corrections says there are no immediate plans to move the electric chair from the state penitentiary in Lincoln.

Neb. town abuzz over tourism idea: electric chair
By ANNA JO BRATTON - 21 hours ago

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Residents of a small southwest Nebraska town have a question for state officials: You're not doing anything with that old electric chair, are you?

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled last year that the state's use of the electric chair was unconstitutional. Some people in McCook -- population just under 8,000 -- think "Old Sparky" could be a tourist attraction and have offered to take it off the state's hands.

Fifteen men were executed in the chair, which is about 210 miles east of McCook at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

Corrections department spokeswoman Connie Nemec says there are no immediate plans to move the chair.

On the Net:
City of McCook:
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


I've been to McCook, not even an electric chair museum could make we want to go back there.   ;D
"How come life in prison doesn't mean life? Until it does, we're not ready to do away with the death penalty. Stop thinking in terms of "punishment" for a minute and think in terms of safeguarding innocent people from incorrigible murderers."

JESSE VENTURA, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed


Still no new developments on the Nebraska lethal injection bill. Why they're dragging their feet on this, I have no idea.


April 13, 2009, 07:35:20 PM Last Edit: April 15, 2009, 10:12:00 PM by Rick4404
Capital Punishment in Nebraska:

All executions in Nebraska since 1903 have taken place within the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Prior to 1903, executions were handled in the county where the offense took place. From 1903 to 1913, the means of execution was by Hanging. Since 1913, it has been by the Electric Chair. A total of 8 inmates were executed by hanging and 15 inmates by means of the electric chair. (23 Total) There have been approximately 68 inmates housed on Death Row from 1903 to the Present. There are currently 10 men and no women awaiting execution in the Cornhusker State.

Death Row in Nebraska was housed at the Penitentiary from 1903 to 2002 when it was transferred to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Executions still take place at the Penitentiary. Inmates who receive an execution date would be transferred to the Nebraska State Penitentiary approximately within a week of that date and would be housed in the Penitentiary hospital on what is called the "Death Watch." While on the Death Watch, condemned inmates may have special visits from family, friends, religious representatives and attorneys. The visits are supervised by staff assigned to the "Death Watch" and take place in the suite of rooms set aside for the condemned inmates. Inmates may also request a special "last meal." Such meals must be prepared from food supplies on hand at the Prison.

The Death Chamber is located in the basement of the Nebraska State Penitentiary. There are a series of rooms including a Viewing Room, Power Room and the room that houses the Electric Chair itself.

State statutes provide for ten witnesses to an execution-typically six representing the state, three selected by the inmate plus a religious representative selected by the inmate. The Department historically since 1994 has authorized media representatives to be the "state" witnesses. In 1997, the husband of one of the people killed by inmate Robert Williams was authorized by the Department to serve as a victim witness to Williams' execution.

One of the issues regarding the use of the electric chair is whether the inmate feels any pain or discomfort when the execution procedure is applied. Some experts would argue that the voltage applied renders instant unconsciousness; others suggest that that is not the case.

It appears that the death row inmates in Nebraska will have to wait a bit longer in that legislation to replace electrocution as the means of carrying out an execution in Nebraska with lethal injection has stalled. In a case last year, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that executing criminals via the electric chair was an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment and therefore in contravention with the Nebraska Constitution.

Thus, Nebraska still has the death penalty on the books, but no legal means to carry out an execution. Senator Mike Flood, the Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, introduced legislation in January to change the mode of death from electrocution to lethal injection. That bill is stuck in the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

The constitutionally-mandated deadline for the Legislature to adjourn for the year comes up on June 4th. Nebraska's single-house Legislature meets for a maximum of 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years and 60 legislative days in even-numbered years.

It's looking doubtful that the stalemate will be broken that will allow that bill to come up for a vote in the full Legislature. Why they're dragging their feet on this, I have absolutely no idea.


Lethal injection bill advances to full Legislature

A vote Thursday morning sets the stage for debate on one of this year's most controversial legislative issues -- whether to switch the state's method of execution to lethal injection.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 to advance the lethal injection bill to the full Legislature for debate. The action came almost a month after the committee had refused to endorse the measure, Legislative Bill 36.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the death penalty is the most serious issue that is debated at the Capito. He said committee members wanted to make sure that all issues had been considered before the bill moved forward.

"In the final analysis, it's my view that the bill as is, and the Nebraska death penalty process, is not only constitutional but probably goes overboard in protecting the rights of the accused," Ashford said.

Several amendments designed the make the application of the death penalty more consistent were considered, but none adopted.

Those proposals included requiring two aggravating circumstances instead of just one to qualify for the death penalty, and having a panel of prosecutors, including the Attorney General, review cases to see if the death penalty should be pursued.

State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who questioned the fairness of the death penalty and led efforts to seek amendments, said a meeting last week with Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley convinced him "there's not anything we can do to make it less arbitrary."

Of the four committee members who were registered "not voting" on advancing the bill last month, all but Omaha Sen. Brenda Council voted for advancing LB 36 Thursday.

Council, a death-penalty foe, said she wasn't surprised that the lethal injection bill couldn't be improved.

"You can't make what is inherently arbitrary and capricious not arbitrary and capricious," she said.

Switching their votes from "not voting" to "yes" were Sens. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, Kent Rogert of Tekamah and Amanda McGill of Lincoln.

They joined 3 senators who previously supported the bill -- Ashford, Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha and Mark Christensen of Imperial -- in voting to advance the bill.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who voted to advance the bill a month ago, registered "not voting" Thursday.

LB 36 is the priority measure of the Legislature's top official, Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk.

Passage of the lethal injection bill seems assured -- 29 of 42 state senators who responded in a pre-session survey by The World-Herald said they supported lethal injection. Flood said floor debate may not begin until May.

Nebraska has been without a means to carry out the death penalty for 13 months, since the state Supreme Court ruled that the only current method, electrocution, was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

11 men sit on death row in Nebraska, which hasn't carried out an execution since 1997.

In a twist, the Judiciary Committee also advanced, on a 6-1 vote Thursday, a bill to repeal the death penalty. LB 306, introduced by Council, would not be debated until next year because it was not selected as a priority.

Ashford said both bills deserved to be debated.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


Lethal injection bill advances

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday morning that would put in place lethal injection as the method to carry out the state's death penalty.

Nebraska currently has a death penalty but no way to carry it out since the electric chair was declared unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court last year.

The bill advanced to the full Legislature on a 6-1 vote with Omaha Sen. Brenda Council voting no and Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash choosing not to vote.

Nebraska has been left without a method of execution since the state Supreme Court ruled in February that the state's only method, electrocution...

"This is the 1st step in what I hope will be a serious and thoughtful discussion about the need for lethal injection." Gov. Dave Heineman said after the vote.

The last time the committee voted on the bill (LB36), introduced by Speaker Mike Flood, it got only four of the needed 5 votes to advance from committee. Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop led the opposition to the bill at that time, saying he wanted more time to explore fixing the flaws in the death penalty law.

On Thursday, he said that after listening to prosecutors and defense lawyers to determine whether capital punishment could be assigned less arbitrarily, he has become convinced nothing can be done to improve the law.

"It's just part of this institution," he said.

Flood said he and the committee worked on the bill for more than 8 weeks and exchanged a half dozen ideas on different approaches to dealing with lethal injection and the death penalty.

"They made this decision on their own. Obviously, I respect the decision they made," Flood said.

Nebraska has a very responsible and methodical death penalty process that is fair to the defendant, Flood said.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh said after the vote he did not agree the state's death penalty is arbitrarily or capriciously applied. He's not comfortable with the argument that the penalty is arbitrary because some who deserve capital punishment don't get it.

"You could say that about any penalty, any crime," he said.

It is a good law as it exists, he said.

"We just need to find a method to carry it out," he said.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who chose not to vote for advancement of the bill, said he is opposed to the death penalty, but knows a lot of people in the state want the Legislature to resolve the problem of having a death penalty law with no way to enforce it.

"It's a state issue that deserves full debate," he said.

Eleven men are on the state's death row. The latest, Roy Ellis, was sentenced by a three-judge panel in February for killing 12-year-old Amber Harris in 2005.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford told the senators he was proud of them for their willingness to patiently explore all aspects of the most critical issue facing the state.

The committee also voted to advance Council's bill (LB306), which would abolish the death penalty. But Ashford said it likely would not be debated this year since it was not selected as a priority bill. It likely will be debated next year, he said.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


This is good news. Hopefully the bill will be passed by the full Legislature and sent to the governor for his signature without further delay.

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