The Wayne Stater

Trust me I’m a Doctor: Time to kill the death penalty

Dr. Leeper

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Quietly, the Nebraska Unicameral voted last week to eliminate the use of the death penalty in Nebraska. The move is not finalized; there are two more readings and the real threat of a gubernatorial veto. There may be steady percolating opposition that builds as the Unicameral moves toward final passage. Perhaps state senators will fold in the face of passionate support for capital punishment. After all, 36 of our 49 state senators are Republican.

Or maybe the bill will just quietly obtain the 30 votes needed to pass through the Unicameral and sail over Rickett’s promised veto. After all, 17 of the initial votes supporting repeal came from Republicans expressing a range of moral and economic concerns over retaining the death penalty.

WSC alum and former Douglas County Republican chairperson Bryan Baumgart recently renounced the death penalty in a blog post, pointing out the moral repugnance of executing the innocent and the fiscal irresponsibility of maintaining a dormant death row. He received hundreds of posts contesting his point of view, but Baumgart and leaders in the Nebraska Republican party seem resolved to rid our state of this type of sporadic, nonsensical, and expensive mode of punishment.

Undoubtedly, Nebraskans superficially express support for the death penalty. In a recent study of Nebraska attitudes by myself and Professor Karen Walker, we found 66% of Nebraskans favor executing those convicted of murder (36% “strongly” so). Nevertheless, our study concluded, in general, Nebraskans are more pragmatic than emotional, and our peoples’ conservatism fades when confronted with simple self-interest. We don’t stampede blindly to consistently right wing responses to everything. There is an elemental, individualistic, common sense approach to problems that separates Nebraska from other “red” states. If the death penalty doesn’t make sense, Nebraskans will abolish it.

Frankly, Nebraskans don’t frequently kill, nor does the state kill all that much. We aren’t Texas. Since 1976, Texas has extinguished 524 souls, with 276 sitting on death row. In Nebraska, since the fabled execution of celebrity mass murderer Charles Starkweather in 1959, Nebraska has executed 3. Eleven presently sit on our death row.

This is not say the illustrious eleven languishing on our death row don’t deserve to die; they are a motley collection of killers and rapists including the Rulo cult killers, the murderers of Brandon Teena and the Norfolk bank robbers.

But make no mistake, they will die, and why not let them rot in a yard with a collection of other murderers with no disincentive to kill. Life without the possibility of parole creates a dynamic within prison that can only be described as “Murderland.” Since reasonable people disagree on what happens when people slide into the Sweet Hereafter, let’s not accelerate that process for killers; let murderers suffer for a good long time and murder other murderers with impunity here on earth, while we wait for them to die miserable deaths at less expense for taxpayers.

The modern application of the death penalty is plagued with killing the innocent and a myriad of troubling biases—regional (since 1977, 83% of executions have occurred in the formerly confederate south), racial (we still kill a disproportionate number of blacks and latinos), and class (90% of those executed had a court appointed attorney), it’s not worth the effort.

It’s time for Nebraska to remove itself from killing killers. Let God sort it out, efficiently, wisely, and with little expense. Let the savings to the state go to…supplementing my salary.

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Trust me I’m a Doctor: Time to kill the death penalty