Friday, 8 February 2008

History of capital punishment in Nebraska

History of capital punishment in Nebraska

History of executions

All executions in Nebraska since 1903 have taken place within the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Before 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, electrocution has been the state's sole method of execution.

Nebraska has executed eight inmates by hanging and 15 inmates by electrocution in the electric chair.

In 2002, death row moved from the prison in Lincoln to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, but executions still take place in Lincoln. The electric chair is housed in the basement of the Lincoln prison.

Nebraska is the only state that relies on electrocution as its sole means of execution. The other 35 states with the death penalty and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary means of execution.

Ten men remain on Nebraska's death row. Three people — Harold Otey, John Joubert and Robert Williams — have been put to death in Nebraska since executions were resumed in 1994.

Legislative challenges

Last year a bill to repeal the death penalty failed to advance by just one vote. That was the first time in nearly 20 years that the full Legislature debated repealing the death penalty.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers has tried to repeal the death penalty every year since he joined the Legislature in 1970.

He came close in 1979, when his bill passed on a 26-22 vote. But it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charley Thone.

The current governor, Dave Heineman, has said he will veto any bill that repeals the death penalty. It would take 30 votes in the Legislature to override his veto.

Chambers' bill to repeal the death penalty has not come up for debate yet this year.

Legal changes

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia ruled the arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Thirty-seven states, including Nebraska, enacted new death penalty laws to address the problems the court identified. By 1976, the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of the revised death penalty laws.

A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring juries to decide whether execution is appropriate led to some changes in Nebraska's death penalty system. Previously, a three-judge panel had decided whether the circumstances in a case merited a death sentence.

The state changed its execution protocol in 2004. The new protocol calls for one 2,450-volt application of electricity for 20 seconds instead of four separate jolts of varying voltage. That protocol also calls for an 18-minute wait before officials determine whether an inmate is dead.

Critics complained the new protocol is slipshod, pieced together with the advice of a Florida doctor as the state scrambled to comply with a lower court order.

The Nebraska Supreme Court stayed the scheduled execution of Carey Dean Moore last May partly because of questions about the protocol.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment.

Source: Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Death Penalty Information Center and The Associated Press archives.

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