Nebraska ends death penalty in historic and close veto override

Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers is interviewed after the historic vote that abolished the death penalty. Photo by User David Hendee / Omaha World-Herald / Twitter

Nebraska became the 19th state to abolish the death penalty after lawmakers narrowly voted to override a veto of the repeal bill on Wednesday.

The Legislature voted 30 to 19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). That was exactly the number of votes needed to preserve the repeal.

“No matter how many other things I have achieved while here, had I not gotten the death penalty repealed I would have felt it was a failure," Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has been pushing for repeal for 40 years, told reporters after the vote, The Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Ten inmates were on death row in Nebraska as of yesterday -- all of their sentences will be converted to life in prison. None of them appear to be Native American.

Randy Reeves, a member of the Omaha Tribe, was on death row for the murders of two women in 1980. He was two days away from execution when the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a stay in the case -- he was eventually re-sentenced to two life terms in prison.

Nationally, at least 33 Native Americans are on death row, according to Wikipedia. A Department of Justice report, however, put the figure at 21 as of 2013, the last year for which data is available.

The death penalty remains legal in 31 states, along with the federal government. Between 1790 and 1963, 19 percent of the 340 men and women who were executed by the federal government were Native American, according to the Capital Punishment Research Project, whose data is cited by the Death Penalty Information Center -- an extremely high rate, considering American Indians and Alaska Natives represent just 1.2 percent of the general population.

Including states and other jurisdictions, at least 464 Native Americans have been executed between 1639 and 2006, according to the center.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 allows tribes to opt out of the federal death penalty for first-degree murder cases. Tribes cannot opt out for certain drug-related and "general applicability" crimes because Congress reinstated the death penalty for these cases.

In addition to the 19 states without the death penalty, the District of Columbia does not allow capital punishment.

Get the Story:
Senators vote to repeal death penalty (The Lincoln Journal Star 5/28)
Nebraska Bans Death Penalty, Defying a Veto (The New York Times 5/28)
Nebraska abolishes death penalty in landmark override vote (AP 5/28)
Nebraska lawmakers abolish the death penalty, narrowly overriding governor’s veto (The Washington Post 5/27)

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