Nebraska lawmakers repealed the state's capital punishment law over Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. Here's how it happened and what's next. 

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Nebraskans will vote Nov. 8 on whether the state should repeal or maintain a law that eliminated the death penalty in the state. It’s a serious matter of life and death. But for the families whose loved ones were taken brutally by murder, the death penalty becomes even more real, and even more intimate.

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The greater weight of the evidence suggests the death penalty costs more than life in prison without parole. Beyond a reasonable doubt, death penalty cases involve more lawyers, they generate more appeals and they demand significantly more court time to resolve than other serious felonies. What remains debatable is the magnitude of the cost.

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In one section of the report economist Ernie Goss tries to address whether the death penalty can save court expenses by motivating more defendants to plead guilty to murder charges. He quotes a paper that says the few studies that have looked into that question have concluded that the death penalty does not increase plea bargain rates.

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The motion for post-conviction relief argues that Nebraska unconstitutionally requires a three-judge panel to make the final sentencing decision in capital cases. The motion cites the Supreme Court opinion released this year in Hurst v. Florida, which said the U.S. Constitution requires juries to decide the critical elements of a death sentence.

Criminal Law
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Bill Babbitt’s younger brother, Manny, was executed in 1999 after 19 years in prison. He appeared in Grand Island on behalf of an organization called Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing. His talk is part of a 10-day, 20-city caravan organized by a group that would like to see Nebraskans retain the repeal of the death penalty.

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The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services last month filed a purchase request for $826 to buy four units of pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent that is the second of three drugs administered under Nebraska’s lethal injection protocol. But the next day, the order was canceled, according to a handwritten note on the purchase document.

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An anti-death penalty group last month filed suit, saying Peterson’s ballot language was “unlawfully misleading” and “unfairly slanted’’ in favor of those who want to block the law passed by the Legislature this year that would repeal Nebraska’s death penalty.

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Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court opens up another option for Nebraska if voters revive the state’s death penalty. But an authority on lethal injection said the state shouldn’t bother because it’s possible the supply of midazolam, the drug given an OK by the high court, will dry up like other lethal injection drugs before it.

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Some states not only rely on one drug, but they also adjust their protocols to keep using lethal injections. In Texas, for instance, the prison director’s decision on which drugs to use requires no public disclosure or oversight from any governing board; this is not the case in Nebraska.

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At an Omaha press conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state and local officials invoked a litany of Nebraska’s worst criminals — from executed serial killer John Joubert to convicted murderer Nikko Jenkins — in condemning some of the prison reform ideas and the move to end capital punishment.

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