August 22, 2014

Debate against death penalty turns on religious, emotional testimony

Debate on whether Nebraska should repeal the death penalty has again come before a legislative committee.

Many of those who testified in support of LB 543, that would do away with the death penalty and retain only the sentence of life without the possibility of parole, used religious arguments.

Representatives of both the Catholics Bishops Conference and the United Methodist Church testified in support of the bill.

Jim Cunningham with the Catholics Bishops Conference suggested to the Judiciary Committee that a legitimate test of the use of the death penalty would be whether it was absolutely necessary. Cunningham asserts the death penalty fails the test, that the state has alternatives that would be as effective.

Nebraska Christian College professor Bill Thornton, speaking as a private citizen, told committee members he opposes executions as part of his faith.

“As a Christ-follower who believes that Christ died for all, that no person is beyond redemption, I believe we should never advocate cutting someone’s life short and thereby guaranteeing no chance for them to experience redemption,” Thornton stated.

The sister of a victim of a grisly murder, Miriam Thimm-Kelle, testified in favor of the bill. Michael Ryan tortured and killed James Thimm in Rulo in 1985.

Thimm-Kelle told committee members that every time Ryan’s lawyers appeal his death sentence, the family relives the horror of the murder. She further stated that the appeals spark media coverage that focuses on Ryan, not on her brother. She stated that she would rather the state abolish the death penalty than give Ryan any more publicity.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, speaking for the Nebraska County Attorney Association, told committee members some murderers deserve death.

Kleine pointed to a couple of murder cases he worked in which the defendants were sentenced to death. Both were convicted of killing children, one of raping a young girl before killing her and her brother.