FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 26, 1999
LINCOLN, NE--Nebraska lawmakers' first step toward making sure capital sentences in the state are handled in a fair manner was halted after Governor Mike Johanns today vetoed a bill calling for a study of the issue and moratorium on executions.
The ACLU of Nebraska, which opposes the death penalty and had supported the bill, said Governor Johann's veto came as little surprise to many following the moratorium debate. Earlier this year, he advocated for a bill introduced on behalf of Attorney General Don Stenberg which sought to limit the number of appeals death row inmates could have in Nebraska's courts.
"This really was a debate about fairness, not about whether Nebraska should have the death penalty," said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Matt LeMieux. "It took a lot of courage for death penalty proponents like Senators Brashear and Bromm to advocate for a two-year study and moratorium. We certainly wish the Governor would have followed their lead."
The moratorium bill came on the heels of the release of Anthony Porter, who spent 17 years on Illinois' death row. Porter was released in February after another man confessed on videotape to the double 1982 murder that sent Porter to death row. His case was broken by journalism students from Northwestern University, who also found that another witness had been pressured by police to testify against Porter.
Porter came within 2 days of execution in 1998 and was only spared because the court wanted to look into his mental competency. His release sparked a nationwide debate on the fairness of the death penalty. Since then, three more men have been released from death row, one in Oklahoma and two more in Illinois.
"There are certainly some death penalty proponents who are aiming to strip from the criminal justice system what few safeguards exist in the administration of capital sentences," LeMieux said.
"If the Governor and Attorney General get their way," he added, "appeals in capital cases will be severely limited and fairness will be thrown out the window. That prospect is a bigger threat to how equitably the death penalty is administered in Nebraska then the Governor's veto today."
Since 1970, 79 people have been released from death row nationwide because evidence of their innocence surfaced. These 79 individuals are proof that the American justice system can and does make mistakes in administering the death penalty.
"We know the system is broken in other states," said LeMieux, referring to the recent releases of prisoners from death rows around the country. "I think it is prudent to make sure we don't have the same flaws in the system here in Nebraska. The proposed study was a step in the right direction toward fairness, and having a moratorium accompany it was just plain common sense."