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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Nebraska.

In 2015, the state legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, overriding governor Pete Ricketts' veto. However, a petition drive secured enough signatures to suspend the repeal until a public vote. In the November 2016 general election, voters rejected the repeal measure, preserving capital punishment in the state.[1][2]

Nebraska has currently 12 inmates on death row. All are convicted of either multiple murders or child murder.[3]

On August 14, 2018, Nebraska executed Carey Dean Moore, who was convicted of murder, in what was the state’s first execution in 21 years and the first by lethal injection.[4] This execution was also notable for being the first in the United States performed using fentanyl, the powerful painkiller at the root of the country's opioid epidemic.[5]



Historically, hanging was the method Nebraska used until after the execution of Albert Prince in 1913. After Prince's execution, a new law was passed requiring the electric chair as the method of execution. Allen Grammer was the first person executed by electrocution in Nebraska (his partner in crime, Alson Cole, would be executed 13 minutes later).[6]

In 1959, the state electrocuted Charles Starkweather, who killed 11 people in a two-month murder spree along with his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.[7]

On February 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared in State v. Mata that electrocution constitutes a "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Nebraska Constitution.[8] The state legislature subsequently approved a bill to change its method of execution to lethal injection, which was signed by governor Dave Heineman on May 28, 2009. Nebraska was the last state to adopt lethal injection as its execution method[9] and the first was carried out on August 14, 2018.[10]

A total of 38 individuals have been executed in Nebraska, including four after 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia.

The latest execution in the state was in August 2018, when Carey Dean Moore was executed by lethal injection for the murders of cabdrivers Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness Jr. 5 days apart in 1979.

Sodium thiopental controversyEdit

A controversy happened in 2011 and 2012 when state officials imported sodium thiopental on two occasions from suppliers based in India and Switzerland. The furnishers said they discovered only after delivering the drugs that these would be used in judicial executions, prompting them to demand the return of the chemicals.[11][12] The state refused, and engaged in a legal battle with the FDA and the suppliers to keep them.[13][14][15] Since the drugs all expired in 2013 and became unusable, the state was unable to carry out any execution until it found another way to get the chemicals.[16][17]

2015 repeal attemptEdit

In May 2015, the unicameral Nebraska State Legislature voted 32–15 on a measure to abolish the death penalty in the state. The bill was introduced by senator Ernie Chambers, who had introduced similar pieces of legislation over prior decades. Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the legislation, but the legislature voted 30–19 to override the veto.[18]

In the summer of 2015, an organization called "Nebraskans for the Death Penalty", gathered signatures on a petition to repeal the bill. Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, contributed one-third of the $913,000 raised by the group. The petition's organizers submitted 120,479 valid signatures, more than 10% of the registered voters in the state, and thus sufficient to suspend the bill and preserve the death penalty until a public vote could be held.[2]

Death-penalty opponents then filed a lawsuit to cancel the referendum, arguing that Ricketts was the "primary initiating force" for the measure, and should have been included on the list of sponsors required by state law.[19] In February 2016, a Lancaster County District Judge dismissed the lawsuit; in July 2016, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's dismissal.[19][20] After this defeat, death-penalty opponents began a campaign to retain the repeal bill, and changed their name from "Nebraskans for Public Safety" to "Retain a Just Nebraska".[21]

In the November 2016 general election, the death-penalty repeal was rejected by a 61-39 margin, thereby retaining capital punishment in the state.[22]

Current legislationEdit

Legal processEdit

Nebraska is the only state where the sentence of death is decided by a three-judge panel, rather than by jury or a single judge. The jury, however, is the trier of facts for both the murder and the aggravating factor making the defendant eligible for the death penalty.

The panel includes the presiding judge of the trial and two others judges appointed for that purpose by the state's chief justice.[23] The death sentence must be unanimous, otherwise life imprisonment is imposed.

Clemency is decided by a three-member board comprising the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state.[24]

Death row inmates are housed at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (for males) and Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (for females). Executions have been carried out at Nebraska State Penitentiary (Lincoln) since 1903.

Capital offensesEdit

Aggravating factors making murder punishable by death are the following:[25]

  1. The offender was previously convicted of another murder or a crime involving the use or threat of violence to the person, or has a substantial prior history of serious assaultive or terrorizing criminal activity;
  2. The murder was committed in an effort to conceal the commission of a crime, or to conceal the identity of the perpetrator of such crime;
  3. The murder was committed for hire, or for pecuniary gain, or the defendant hired another to commit the murder for the defendant;
  4. The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or manifested exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence;
  5. At the time the murder was committed, the offender also committed another murder;
  6. The offender knowingly created a great risk of death to at least several persons;
  7. The victim was a public servant having lawful custody of the offender or another in the lawful performance of his or her official duties and the offender knew or should have known that the victim was a public servant performing his or her official duties;
  8. The murder was committed knowingly to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of the laws; or
  9. The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the lawful performance of his or her official duties as a law enforcement officer and the offender knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a law enforcement officer.

Executions after 1976Edit

Four individuals convicted of murder have been executed by Nebraska since 1976. Three were executed by electric chair and one by lethal injection.

Executed person Date of execution Victims Under Governor
1 Harold Lamont "Wili" Otey September 2, 1994 Jane McManus Ben Nelson
2 John Joseph Joubert A July 17, 1996 Danny Eberle and Christopher Walden
3 Robert E. Williams B [26][27] December 2, 1997 Catherine Brooks and Patricia McGarry
4 Carey Dean Moore August 14, 2018 Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness Jr. Pete Ricketts
A John Joubert was also tried and convicted of murdering Ricky Stetson in Portland, Maine. He received a life sentence in Maine.
B Robert E. Williams also murdered Virginia Rowe of Sioux Rapids, Iowa.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Nebraska Restores the Death Penalty One Year After Eliminating It". Time. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Death penalty repeal officially on hold until 2016 election". Archived from the original on May 25, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  3. ^ "NEBRASKA INMATES SENTENCED TO DEATH (ISDP)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 12, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  4. ^ "Pope's Death Penalty Stance Won't Stop Execution, Nebraska's Catholic Governor Says". Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 5, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2009.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Derrick S. Ward. "Starkweather, Charles (1938-1959)". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 13, 2008. Retrieved February 8, 2008.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Nebraska executes Carey Dean Moore for murders of Omaha cabdrivers". Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  11. ^ Joe Duggan (November 30, 2011). "Prison to keep execution drug". Omaha World Herald. Archived from the original on February 28, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Cory Matteson (November 29, 2011). "Maker of lethal injection drug wants it back". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  13. ^ Margery A. Beck (April 20, 2012). "Neb. refuses order to surrender execution drug". Associated Press. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  14. ^ "Nebraska: State Will Not Surrender Execution Drug". Associated Press. April 21, 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  15. ^ Ed Howard (May 16, 2012). "Bruning's death grip on sodium thiopental". McCook Daily Gazette. Retrieved February 7, 2014. "Other than the court's erroneous order, we are unaware of any evidence or reasons why the Department of Correctional Services should be required to return any thiopental in its possession," Bruning told the FDA.
  16. ^ Joe Duggan (February 5, 2014). "Nebraska lacks drug for lethal injections, has no way to carry out executions". Omaha World Herald. Archived from the original on February 28, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 2014. Nebraska prison officials have not replaced a lethal injection drug that expired late last year, meaning the state currently has no way to carry out an execution.
  17. ^ Kevin O'Hanlon (April 30, 2013). "Portion of Nebraska's supply of lethal injection drug set to expire". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  18. ^ Duggan, Joe; Cooper, Todd (May 27, 2015). "Nebraska senators override governor's veto, repeal death penalty". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  19. ^ a b "Judge dismisses suit challenging death-penalty question going to voters". February 1, 2016. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  20. ^ Pilger, Lori. "Death penalty ballot challenge survives legal challenge". Lincoln Journal Star. July 9, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  21. ^ "Nebraska death penalty foes to launch statewide campaign". Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  22. ^ "Nebraska Secretary of State - Election Night Results - May 15th, 2018". Archived from the original on 2018-08-04. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  23. ^ "2014 Nebraska Revised Statutes - Chapter 29 - CRIMINAL PROCEDURE - 29-2521 - Sentencing determination proceeding". Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  24. ^ "Section IV-13, Board of parole; members; powers; reprieves; proceedings; power to pardon; limitations". Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  25. ^ Nebraska Revised Statutes - Chapter 29 - CRIMINAL PROCEDURE - 29-2523 - Aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
  26. ^ Inmate Details: 31861 -- Robert Williams. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  27. ^ a b Matthew Waite (December 3, 1997). "Williams marks state's third electrocution". Daily Nebraskan. Archived from the original on October 27, 2007. Retrieved February 4, 2014.

Further readingEdit

  • Baldus, D.C. et al. (2001). The disposition of Nebraska capital and non-capital homicide cases (1973-1999): a legal and empirical analysis. Lincoln, Neb.: Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

External linksEdit