Days after Nebraska lawmakers approved a bill that would repeal the death penalty in their state, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts followed through on his promise to veto the legislation.
Lawmakers last Wednesday voted 32-15 on LB268, a bill that would replace the death penalty with life without parole as the state's highest penalty. The legislature is expected to override the governor's veto, which requires 30 votes.
"Capital punishment and the death penalty are important for public safety," Ricketts said in a press conference for the veto letter signing Tuesday. Ricketts said the death penalty is essential for protecting law enforcement, and pleaded with senators to sustain his veto and not side with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ernie Chambers (I).
Ricketts contended that repealing the death penalty "sends a message to criminals that Nebraska is soft on crime" and that the punishment is used in Nebraska "judiciously and prudently."
“Prosecutors need [the death penalty] as a tool when they prosecute these murderers," Nebraska's attorney general, Doug Peterson, said during the conference.
Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter, Evonne, was killed during a bank robbery, echoed the sentiments of the governor and the attorney general.
“I’ll never forget September 26, 2002. There was a camera inside that bank and I watched my daughter get down on her knees and get shot," Tuttle said during the conference. "I want justice for my grandchildren, I want justice for all the other families, so we need to keep the death penalty."
Many conservatives and anti-death penalty activists in the state contend that punishment is costly, ineffective, unfair and something they no longer want in a state that hasn't actually carried out an execution since 1997.
Ricketts didn't address the fiscal aspects of maintaining the death penalty but repeatedly pressed its necessity for maintaining public safety and justice. When asked by a reporter, the self-professed Catholic governor said he believes the death penalty is also in step with religious teachings.
"As a Catholic, I'm confident that this aligns with Catholic catechism and that this aligns with public safety," he said.
Father Jason Emerson, an Omaha-based Episcopal priest, would disagree. Last Wednesday, Emerson started a petition urging Ricketts not to veto the death penalty repeal; the petition has since gathered nearly 26,000 signatures from around the world.
"The faith community has been upfront on this," Emerson told The Huffington Post Tuesday, referring to leading Catholic publications and faith leaders like Pope Francis publicly opposing the death penalty.
"Nebraska is definitely a conservative state. And we have a conservative legislature as well -- but it’s a pragmatic conservatism," Fr. Emerson told HuffPost. "I think maybe the legislators -- surely some coming to this decision from moral and religious reasons -- many are coming at it from a pragmatic point of view. It’s not a deterrent to crime; in Omaha where I live, murder rates are not decreasing. It’s not working and it’s costing a ton of money."
Stacy Anderson, the executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said in a statement:
A diverse group of Nebraskans from across the state have come together to support repeal of the death penalty. Leaders of all the major faith groups and their constituencies, murder victim's families, members of law enforcement, innocence experts and the wrongfully convicted, former and current Republican, Liberty and Libertarian leaders and progressives have joined together to call to an end this failed policy. We have joined together from a variety of perspective including, respect for life, knowledge that a system run by human beings is fallible, concern for victims’ families and the desire to end a failed government program.
Emerson said he would be disappointed in a veto, but also confused.
"I wouldn’t understand it," Emerson said. "The governor is a very successful businessman. He’s made decisions based on data in the practice of business. And the data doesn’t show any positive gain from having the death penalty. It’s shocking that he would go against the data."