"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chambers' new effort to repeal death penalty elicits emotional testimony before Nebraska Legislature

State Sen. Ernie Chambers
State Senator Ernie Chambers
LINCOLN — She spent what would have been her mother’s 52nd birthday asking Nebraska lawmakers not to stand in the way of executing her mother’s killers.

Christine Tuttle urged members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to reject a bill that would pull their colleagues into yet another debate over abolishing the death penalty. Rather, listen to the 61 percent of voters who went to the polls in November and reinstated capital punishment, she said.

Further, she told senators on the committee that they should feel ashamed for celebrating on the legislative floor two years ago when a different repeal bill passed. Her mother, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in the 2002 bank shooting in Norfolk.

“I watched you laugh and hug and high-five,” she said. “You celebrated on the pain and sorrow of my family, and we have heard enough. This behavior hurt me and it angered me and it’s not becoming of state senators, and I hope and pray that you do not make the same mistake again.”

For State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, there was no mistake in championing the repeal, no shame in celebrating a victory that seemed unattainable in a conservative state like Nebraska. Instead, he only sounded resolved to take up the old battle once again.

“As long as I have breath in my body and I’m in this Legislature, I’m going to do what I think is right,” Chambers said. “And I don’t think the state should kill anybody.”

Even as Chambers renewed the signature cause of his four decades in public office, some of his colleagues took another step to return capital punishment to viability. Members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced Legislative Bill 661, which would allow the Department of Correctional Services to hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers.

Secrecy laws in other death penalty states are credited with making it easier to carry out executions. LB 661 has a priority designation, which means it almost certainly will be scheduled for floor debate this session.

Legislative Bill 446, Chambers’ repeal proposal, has not been prioritized. So even if the Judiciary Committee votes to advance it, the bill probably would not be debated before the session concludes June 2.

Despite losing last year’s ballot referendum, about a dozen death penalty opponents lined up to testify in support of the Chambers bill.

They used familiar arguments: The death penalty costs the state more than life in prison; it does not significantly deter crime; it risks executing the wrong person; it conflicts with “pro-life” beliefs.

“I don’t trust the government to deliver the mail on time or fix potholes. How could I trust them to make life-or-death decisions,” said Matt Maly with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Mark Metcalf urged senators not to be deterred by the referendum vote, arguing that lawmakers who carefully studied and considered both sides of the argument gained a better understanding of the death penalty.

“It should not be surprising that our senators could be right about something and we the people could be wrong,” he said.

Testifying against the bill was Assistant Attorney General Corey O’Brien, who said the death penalty is intentionally reserved for a small percentage of the most heinous killers.

Also speaking in opposition was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who passed out photos and video of the celebratory scene in 2015 when the repeal bill passed. He said voters sent a clear message that Nebraska is a death penalty state and their elected officials should act accordingly.

The most compelling testimony was delivered by Tuttle, who described what it was like to see her mother on the bank surveillance video as three masked men walked in with guns.

“You want to yell, they’re coming, but you can’t,” she said. “Before the robbery even starts, it’s done and all five people are dead.”

She listed the names of the others gunned down in less than a minute: Samuel Sun, Jo Mausbach, Lisa Bryant and Lola Elwood. The three gunmen are among the 10 currently on death row.

And she gave a glimpse of the agonizing conversation she had that day with her two young sisters.

“Has anyone ever told a 3- and 5-year-old that their mother is dead?” she asked. “The goodbye hugs and kisses that morning were the last they would ever receive from my mom.”

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln apologized, saying any displays of emotion on the floor of the Legislature were not intended as an insult to the families of murder victims. Rather, they said the scene reflected the kind of outpouring that naturally follows any difficult struggle over an issue people care deeply about.

Pansing Brooks also said that she resented the implication by the sheriff that she and other death penalty opponents were being intentionally disrespectful.

And Chambers told the sheriff the story of a favorite nephew, the victim of an unsolved homicide. He told how death penalty supporters wanted to know if he felt differently about capital punishment after death had struck such a blow to his family.

No, he said he told them, he never for a moment felt differently.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Joe Duggan, March 23, 2017


Senator: Restoring Nebraska's Death Penalty Was Wrong


Campaigning against the Nebraska repeal
Campaigning against the Nebraska repeal
A Nebraska senator who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty is trying again, arguing that the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska senator who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty is trying again, arguing that the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha presented his repeal bill Wednesday to a legislative committee. It's unlikely to pass, but Chambers says a popular vote shouldn't decide issues such as capital punishment.

Lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 2015, overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. 

Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot petition drive partially financed by Ricketts. 

Voters overturned the Legislature's decision and restored the punishment in November.

Nebraska's corrections department recently changed its lethal injection protocol after years of failed attempts to obtain the necessary drugs. 

Another bill would let the state hide the identity of its suppliers.

Source: Associated Press, March 22, 2017

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