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Gov. Pete Ricketts condemned the decision to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska, while people who had fought to abolish the state's power to execute rejoiced.

“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” Ricketts said in a news release sent just after senators voted 30-19 to override his veto of a bill to repeal the death penalty. “While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”

The governor thanked senators who voted to sustain his veto of the bill (LB268) that replaces the death penalty with life in prison with no parole, including Sen. John Murante of Gretna and Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo. Both men voted for repeal last week but switched to Ricketts' side on Wednesday.

Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty thanked conservative senators for supporting repeal and making it possible.

“This overwhelming, bipartisan vote demonstrates again the change in thinking that has taken place on the death penalty over the last few years,” said Executive Director Stacy Anderson. “Lawmakers and Nebraska residents recognize the realities of an error-prone system that risks executing innocent people and harms murder victim family members.

“The active leadership of conservative Republican legislators in supporting death penalty repeal here in Nebraska reflects a similar sea change I’ve noticed across the country,” she said in a statement. “Conservatives like me want to see policies that are fiscally responsible, limit the size and scope of government, and value life. The death penalty fails on all counts.”

ACLU of Nebraska said Wednesday marked a historic victory for Nebraska.

"We are grateful for the dynamic leadership of policymakers, and we are proud to be part of an incredibly diverse coalition led by faith leaders, fiscal conservatives, and victim’s families," said Executive Director Danielle Conrad. "This is a meaningful victory for all Nebraskans. The Nebraska Legislature, with the world watching, made their voice a part of the national conversation.

"We are a nation that is turning away from the death penalty. This victory stands as a testament to what can happen in our sister states. Our work helped to identify what we were hearing and seeing on the ground and across the nation a majority of voters favor smart alternatives like life in prison that put public safety first.

"... The state of Nebraska has been unable to carry out an execution for 15 years. Efforts to obtain drugs for lethal injection have failed time and time again. The governor’s most recent desperate attempt to secure lethal injection drugs raises the same legal and procedural red flags. Thankfully, Nebraska can now implement this law and devote more resources to solving crimes, supporting victims’ families and bringing sensible reforms to our crisis-riddled prison system."

Ricketts announced on May 14 that he had purchased the three drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection.

The Catholic bishops of Nebraska commended senators for voting to repeal.

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"The Catholic bishops of Nebraska commend the Nebraska Legislature for voting, definitively, to repeal the death penalty in our state," they said in a statement. "We recognize many men and women of good will on both sides of this debate. 

"May all Nebraskans continue working together for peace, justice, safety, and the common good," said the statement from Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of the Diocese of Grand Island. "We encourage all people to pray for our civic leaders, for police officers and first responders, for the victims of violent crimes and their families, and for the incarcerated. May the peace of Jesus Christ reign in our hearts, our communities, and in our state."

Meanwhile, Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha announced the formation of Nebraskans for Justice to explore the possibility of a ballot initiative to put reinstating the death penalty to a vote.

He promised to stand up for what he called the vast majority of Nebraskans who believe the death penalty is appropriate for heinous crimes. 

“With the formation of Nebraskans for Justice, I am standing with Nebraskans who are thoroughly disappointed with Nebraska legislators who voted to end Nebraska’s death penalty,” McCoy said in a news release. “Once again, Nebraska’s Legislature has gone against the wishes of an overwhelming number of Nebraskans. ..." 

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson had this to say.

"I disagree with the Legislature's override of Governor Ricketts' veto. This action limits the ability of law enforcement to effectively prosecute and punish Nebraska's most dangerous criminals. I believe the people of Nebraska still maintain that capital punishment is an appropriate means of effectuating justice for heinous crimes."

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