Ricketts appeals to public to keep death penalty in Nebraska

By GRANT SCHULTE

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts turned to the public Friday to try to crack the veto-proof majority of lawmakers that voted to abolish the death penalty, urging residents to contact their senators and voice support for capital punishment.

Lawmakers voted 32-15 on the measure Wednesday, placing the issue on the governor’s desk for the first time since 1979. At least 30 votes are needed next week to override Ricketts’ promised veto, so the governor has to flip three or more.

“I think it’s appropriate, I think it’s an important tool for public safety, and I think frankly, the senators are completely out of touch with Nebraskans by voting to repeal the death penalty,” Ricketts said, noting he’s spoken with several lawmakers.

Advocates on either side of the issue are working hard to try to influence next week’s override vote with phone and email messages to senators’ offices and social media accounts. On Friday, the Omaha Police Officers’ Association voiced its support for the death penalty for those who murder a first responder or elected official, as well as other heinous crimes.

Two senators who spoke with the governor after the bill passed said they hadn’t been persuaded to change their vote against capital punishment.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said he supports the death penalty, but noted that Nebraska’s two previous governors and former attorneys general were never able to overcome the legal challenges. Gloor said the spectacle of keeping inmates on death row for decades has weakened capital punishment’s effectiveness as a crime deterrent.

Nebraska hasn’t executed an inmate since 1997, when the electric chair was used under Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson. The state hasn’t put someone to death with the current lethal injection protocol required by law. Eleven men are now on death row, including one who has been there for 35 years.

“It would be one thing if we were only six or seven years out from our last execution,” Gloor said. ``But this is Year 19.”

Gloor said he has also heard from former conservative state senators who urged him to hold his ground and vote for the override. The Hall County Board of Supervisors in his district was scheduled to meet in an emergency meeting Friday to try to sway his vote, but the meeting was canceled because members didn’t have a quorum.

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo said he reached out to the governor and asked to meet with him after voting for the repeal. Johnson said he was wavering on the issue after Ricketts announced that his administration had purchased new lethal injection drugs.

But Johnson said he also had received calls from leaders in his church and other religious groups urging him to override the veto. He said that he also remained skeptical that the state would actually carry out an execution.

“I’m still where I was” on the day the bill passed, he said.

Stacy Anderson, executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the bill would keep enough support for the override. The group has activated a volunteer phone bank to rally the public in its favor.

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