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Death penalty debate far from over
Sen. Ernie Chambers was honest and generous in his statements following the historic 30-19 vote to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of the Legislature's bill to end the death penalty in Nebraska.
"Whenever anything historic occurs, it's never the doing of one person," Chambers, an Independent who introduced a repeal measure 38 times, told The Associated Press. "I've been pushing for this for 40 years, but all of this time it's never been done. If it could be done by one man, it would have been done a long time ago."
So were the Catholic bishops of Nebraska, who were magnanimous in victory: "We recognize many men and women of good will on both sides of this debate. May all Nebraskans continue working together for peace, justice, safety, and the common good. We encourage all people to pray for our civic leaders, for police officers and first responders, for the victims of violent crimes and their families, and for the incarcerated. May the peace of Jesus Christ reign in our hearts, our communities, and in our state."
The governor and attorney general were understandably disappointed:
"My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families," said Gov. Ricketts. "While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue."
"I disagree with the Legislature's override of Governor Ricketts' veto," said Attorney General Doug Peterson. "This action limits the ability of law enforcement to effectively prosecute and punish Nebraska's most dangerous criminals. I believe the people of Nebraska still maintain that capital punishment is an appropriate means of effectuating justice for heinous crimes."
The issue is far from settled, however. Officials say there is nothing in the law to overturn previous death sentences already waiting to be carried out.
And, with Sen. Beau McCoy saying he would consider putting the death penalty on a statewide ballot next year, it is likely to be a topic of debate for years to come.
But Nebraska hasn't executed anyone since 1997, our last batch of lethal drugs outdated and opponents question the legality of the $50,000 worth of new drugs we've purchased, but have not yet arrived.
Meanwhile, one of those most deserving of the death penalty, Michael Ryan, died of natural causes three decades after he tortured and killed two people, including a 5-year-old, before the sentenced could be carried out.
For now, at least, Nebraska practicality won out over arguments that the death penalty should be kept in place.