No permanent fix for Nebraska death penalty

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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Nebraska is unlikely to be able to carry out lethal injections even if the voters decide on the November ballot to override the legislature’s decision to repeal the death penalty. At a news conference Wednesday, University of Nebraska law professor Eric Berger and State Sen. Colby Coash spoke about the state’s death penalty system just after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced on Dec. 4 he will reverse efforts to import drugs to carry out lethal injections.

The referendum to repeal a law that abolished the death penalty in Nebraska passed with enough approved signatures and is on the ballot during the 2016 general election on Nov. 8. Over 65,000 signatures were verified, meeting the 56,942 threshold to get the issue on the ballot according to the Omaha World-Herald. Ricketts added that he stepped up conversations with the attorney general and corrections director to review protocols in other states.

Berger said at the conference that Nebraska will likely continue to have problems getting drugs for their execution protocol and “the only sure thing is that any Nebraska lethal injection procedure will be subject to expensive, time-consuming legal challenges.”

Coash has spent nearly eight years in the legislature. He said he saw periods of time when there was a pro-death penalty governor, attorney general and legislature, yet the death penalty remained nonfunctional.

“Had it been possible to get the death penalty functional they would have done it. But they didn’t, because there’s no way to make the system workable,” Coash said.

Even if the state adopts a new protocol, Berger said there would be no guarantee the state would even obtain the lethal drugs.

“Many drug manufacturers have signaled that they want to stop selling drugs to states for use in executions, and there are also some drug shortages that exist independent of the death penalty,” said Berger. “The result is that many states can’t get the drugs they need for their procedure.” 

[Elizabeth A. Elliott is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is]


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