GOP governor vows to execute remaining inmates before Nebraska death penalty ban takes effect

Gov. Ricketts eager "to proceed with the executions" despite not even having the drugs to carry them out

Published June 5, 2015 3:18PM (EDT)


Nebraska's Republican Governor Pete Ricketts is so incensed at state lawmakers' decision to abolish the death penalty that he has vowed to execute the remaining death row inmates before the September ban goes into effect -- even if he has to violate federal law to do so, the Atlantic's Garrett Epps reports.

Late in May, the Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty by passing LB268. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, but the legislature overrode the veto by a 32 to 15 margin, effectively ending the ability of Nebraska to execute its prisoners. The state can still sentence individual to death, but given that it is now illegal to sign a death warrant, all such sentences are de facto life.

Governor Ricketts is not happy with this development, claiming that repealing the death penalty "sends a message to criminals that Nebraska is soft on crime," so he decided to do what any responsible statesman would and execute the 11 remaining death row inmates before the death warrant ban goes into effect this September.

There is, however, one problem with his plan: the state does not possess the drugs required to brew a cocktail that passes Eighth Amendment muster, and it is loathe to repeat the mistakes made by Oklahoma when it used an "experimental" drug cocktail that left inmates feeling as if they were being burned alive from the inside.

Nebraska successfully purchased two of the drugs required for a constitutionally sanctioned cocktail from a pharmaceutical firm in India, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is under a D.C. Circuit court order to seize all shipments of one of them -- sodium thiopental -- at the border.

Despite having been thwarted on almost every legal front, last Friday Governor Ricketts vowed "to proceed with the executions" -- though the means by which he will do so remain unsettled. But, as Epps' noted, "Ricketts and Peterson are throwing a fit because the legislature did something they didn’t like, and they are threatening to shred state and federal law in response," so it stands to reason they will find some means -- legal or otherwise -- to execute these inmates before the ban goes into effect.

By Scott Eric Kaufman

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Death Penalty Gop Nebraska Pete Ricketts