LINCOLN — Attorney General Doug Peterson has challenged the accuracy of a new economic analysis that says Nebraska spends about $14.6 million annually on the death penalty.

A report commissioned by Retain a Just Nebraska attributed much of the higher cost of the death penalty to the number of appeals in capital cases. The analysis was conducted by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss.

In a press release, Peterson said his office handles about 500 criminal appeals annually. Only about five of those appeals involve death penalty cases each year.

Peterson criticized the analysis for relying heavily on cost studies conducted in other states. He suggested Nebraska voters are entitled to “Nebraska figures” as they weigh their decision on the death penalty.

The Goss report “fails to accurately reflect actual costs associated with the death penalty in Nebraska,” said the attorney general’s release.

In a response Tuesday, Goss said he used “actual spending data” that state agencies reported to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On Nov. 8, Nebraskans will vote on a referendum of a 2015 state law that repealed the death penalty.

The Legislature overrode the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts to pass the repeal law. But the historic vote also mobilized death penalty supporters, who collected more than enough signatures to force a referendum.

“Voters are absolutely entitled to know the full costs of the death penalty, not just what the administration wants them to know,” said State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, who played a key role in passing the repeal legislation.

Goss compared spending on criminal justice activities in states that have a death penalty with similar spending in states that do not.

He calculated that Nebraska spent $533 million on “justice activities” in 2013. Without the death penalty, the cost would have been about $519 million, he wrote. Adjusted for inflation, the difference would have been $14.6 million in 2015.

Among the extra expenses cited by Goss was additional preparation time for hearings and jury selection. Also, Nebraska law requires two defense attorneys to be appointed in death penalty cases; non-death penalty cases require one.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587,

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