Nebraskans who want to keep the death penalty off the books in Nebraska took a proactive step last week to reassure Nebraskans that when a murderer is sentenced to life in prison, it means just that.
The anti-death penalty group included some Nebraskans who can speak with consummate authority.
Here’s what retired District Court Judge Ronald Reagan had to say:
“I want to make sure there is no legal confusion,” Reagan said. “Life imprisonment means life in prison, no chance of parole. Anything else is legal posturing and has no grounding in the legal realities.”
Reagan ought to know. He’s the judge who sentenced John Joubert to death. John Joubert, a sadistic serial killer convicted of stabbing two boys to death, died in the electric chair in 1996. He was one of the last people to be executed in the state.
“I have seen the worst of the worst cases in Nebraska and I have studied the laws very carefully,” Reagan said. “Let me be perfectly clear about what happens when someone is sentenced to life imprisonment in Nebraska – they die in prison.
Coincidentally, a few days after Reagan spoke to the news media, inmate Randy Reeves died at age 60 in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Reeves was serving a life sentence for killing two women in Lincoln in 1980.
Reagan’s point was underscored by two Nebraska lawmakers – Sens. Colby Coash and Adam Morfeld -- who serve on the judiciary committee.
The public statements from experts with authoritative credentials were needed because some advocates in the pro-death penalty crowd have been spreading doubt about the meaning and efficacy of life imprisonment in Nebraska.
For example, pro-death penalty spokesman Bob Evnen at a panel discussion at Western Nebraska Community College claimed, according to the Scottsbluff Star Herald, “There is no such thing as life without parole anyway. There is no such thing as life without release."
Evnen apparently was basing his claim on the fact that the Nebraska Pardons Board has the authority to commute life sentences.
The Pardons Board has commuted three life sentences in the past 25 years.
But what Evnen did not say is that the Pardons Board also has the power to commute death sentences. And Nebraska history shows it has also exercised that power.
Only the Pardons Board – currently made up of Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State John Gale -- can commute a death sentence or a sentence of life imprisonment.
Don’t be misled by the exaggerations and fear-mongering of death penalty supporters. Take the word of retired Judge Ronald Reagan, who actually has imposed sentences in first degree murder cases. Nebraskans can be assured that a life sentence in Nebraska means that the convict will die in prison.