Nebraska Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

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Nebraska Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

'Remaining states that retain the death penalty should follow Nebraska’s example  and do away with this cruel and inhuman punishment forever.'

The Nebraska legislature voted Wednesday to repeal the death penalty, a measure the governor has vowed to veto. Above, a lethal injection chair is shown. (Photo: Reuters)

Lawmakers in Nebraska voted overwhelmingly to end the use of the death penalty in their state.

"Nebraska becomes the latest state to acknowledge that the death penalty is an irrevocably broken and unjust practice. The legislature has taken a courageous step forward for human rights." —Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International

As the Huffington Post reports:

Lawmakers voted 32-15 on a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole as the state's highest penalty. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has vowed to veto the bill, but the legislature is expected to have enough votes to override the veto.

Stacy Anderson, executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told The Huffington Post last week that a shift in numbers on the anticipated veto override vote is unlikely.

"I think the senators have made up their minds," Anderson said. "They've studied the issue and they're ready to get this bill through."

If lawmakers successfully override Ricketts' veto, Nebraska will be the first state to repeal the death penalty since Maryland eliminated the punishment in 2013. Nebraska's repeal would bring down the number of death penalty states to 31.

Amnesty International championed those who voted in favor of the bill, described its strong passage as a welcome development for those opposed to state-sanctioned executions, and urged other states to take the same step.

"Nebraska becomes the latest state to acknowledge that the death penalty is an irrevocably broken and unjust practice," said Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty's executive director. "The legislature has taken a courageous step forward for human rights. Rather than stand in the way, Governor Ricketts should get on the right side of history by signing this bill into law. The remaining states that retain the death penalty should follow Nebraska’s example and do away with this cruel and inhuman punishment forever."

According to the Omaha World-Herald:

The state last carried out an execution in 1997, when the method was the electric chair. The method was changed to lethal injection in 2009, but two of the necessary drugs expired before they could be used.

Last week, the governor announced the purchase of a new supply of drugs in an effort to restore the state’s ability to carry out an execution. Death penalty opponents, however, said questions about the drugs will lead to new legal challenges.

The State of Nebraska has officially administered the death penalty since 1901, when hangings were moved from individual counties to the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Eleven men currently reside on Nebraska’s death row, which is housed at the Tecumseh State Prison.

Ricketts argued the repeal would apply retroactively to the inmates, making it impossible to carry out their executions.

An attorney with expertise in death penalty cases said Wednesday it’s too soon to speculate on the fate of those on death row. The Legislature does not have the legal authority to change a sentence after it has been declared, but without a means to carry out an execution, it would appear the 11 could win a reprieve.

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