The writer is governor of Nebraska.
Yesterday, I returned my veto of Legislative Bill 268 with my objections to the Legislature. This bill would repeal Nebraska’s death penalty over the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans.
Recent events in our state demonstrate why the death penalty is in place. In Omaha, there is one murderer convicted of four first-degree homicides who now awaits sentencing. There is one awaiting trial on charges of four first-degree homicides. There is one arrested on charges of first-degree murder of his mother and helpless 4-year-old brother.
These heinous and violent crimes are not limited to our largest metropolitan area. Currently on death row are inmates who have been sentenced for evil deaths that they perpetuated in Madison, Hall, Scotts Bluff, Richardson and Douglas Counties.
Such heinous murderers do not deserve the luxury of living on the taxpayer dime for the rest of their lives. Right now, it costs about $50,000 a year to house these violent offenders, or about the same as the average household income in Nebraska.
Allowing these murderers to live gives them privileges their victims will never enjoy.
Even without executions in recent years, the death penalty in Nebraska has continued to play an important role in prosecuting criminals, protecting our families and ensuring that criminals remain locked behind bars. The death penalty allows prosecutors to get stronger sentences which keep dangerous criminals off our streets.
In Nebraska, there are only 10 inmates on death row. Unlike California or Texas, which have hundreds on death row, we use the death penalty judiciously and prudently.
Retaining the death penalty is not only important to the integrity of criminal prosecutions but also vitally important to good prison management and protecting our prison officers. This fact cannot be overlooked, given the recent prison disturbance in Tecumseh.
If the death penalty is not in place, then an inmate has little concern about receiving a more serious sanction. It is not right to force prison wardens or the correctional system to house inmates without fear of additional sanctions for murders inmates perpetuate within the prison walls.
Proponents of repealing the death penalty use arguments that are both incorrect and inapplicable to Nebraska.
For instance, there are no fiscal savings to elimination of the death penalty in Nebraska. The Legislature’s fiscal note demonstrates that enactment of the bill will not reduce costs. The costs incurred in capital trials are mostly spent at the trial phase — which will continue whenever heinous murders are committed. Fiscal savings that were discussed from other states have no impact locally.
It is important to note that life imprisonment does not guarantee that a convicted murderer will spend his life behind bars. The case of Laddie Dittrich proves this.
Dittrich, a convicted murderer, was sentenced to life imprisonment. After serving 40 years in prison, his sentence was commuted by the Pardons Board. He was then paroled. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for molesting a young girl.
Advocates for repealing the death penalty have criticized it for not being used since 1997. These are the same advocates who have caused this delay.
It was just six years ago that the method for carrying out the death penalty was changed from the electric chair to lethal injection. That change was pushed for by the same special interests that are now standing in the way of its use. It is the litigious actions of these groups that impede the will of the people.
For those family members of victims who have waited patiently for justice to be carried out, this bill is cruel. LB 268 vests the killers with more justice than the victims.
The Legislature’s decision will test whether our state has the prosecutorial tool to manage the “worst of the worst” cases.
The legislators’ decision will determine whether the families of victims of 10 inmates on Nebraska’s death row will ever receive the justice meted out by a very deliberate and cautious judicial process in each of the cases. Lawmakers’ decision tests the true meaning of representative government.
For these reasons, I urge Nebraskans to contact their senators and ask them to sustain my veto.