Posted 10 months ago
By John Axtell
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A proposal to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska died for the current session this morning when supporters failed to win a two-thirds majority required to quash a legislative filibuster.
It takes just 25 votes to advance and pass a bill, but 33 votes are needed to end a filibuster…and repeal supporters came up 5 short on the 28-21 vote. The failure to reach a vote pushes the bill to the bottom of the Legislature’s agenda, effectively killing it for the rest of the session.
The measure was introduced by longtime Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers, who says he’ll try again next year. Chambers introduced a repeal bill every year from 1973 through 2008, when he was forced from office due to term limits. He was re-elected last year after a four-year hiatus.
The Legislature has only passed a Chambers death penalty bill only once, in 1979, and then-Gov. Charles Thone vetoed it, but today’s cloture vote suggests that a growing number of lawmakers oppose capital punishment.
Among the reasons death penalty opponents give for wanting to outlaw capital punishment is that they say it is applied arbitrarily. Nebraska has seen 260 first-degree murder convictions since 1973, and 33 of those offenders were sentenced to death. Of that number, three have been executed.
Lawmakers who support the death penalty say Nebraska’s system affords inmates numerous chances to appeal their sentences, often over decades. They also contend that improved DNA identification and evidence-gathering has reduced the chances of the state executing an innocent person.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, of Omaha, said Nebraska’s death-row convicts have all committed crimes so heinous that he won’t regret any of their executions.
“I won’t shed a tear and I won’t mourn, except for the passage of time,” Lautenbaugh said. “I cannot have sympathy for these men on death row. They have forfeited their right to be part of the human race.”
Sen. Charlie Janssen, of Fremont, argued that the death penalty gives prosecutors additional leverage to force plea-bargains in murder cases.
“Murderers are cowards by their very nature, and they will cave if they’ve got something to lose,” Janssen said.
Nebraska has 11 men currently sitting on death row. The last inmate executed in Nebraska was Robert E. Williams, who was electrocuted in 1997. Williams confessed to killing three women and trying to kill a fourth during a three-day rampage in 1977 that crossed into three states.
Earlier this month, Maryland became the sixth state in the last six years to repeal the death penalty. Like the other five states — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and New Mexico — Maryland is less conservative than Nebraska. Thirty-two states have the death penalty.