Opponents of the death penalty have testified before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, calling for an end to a punishment Nebraska rarely uses.
One person testified in favor of keeping it.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine testified on behalf of the Nebraska County Attorneys Association that some crimes are so heinous the death penalty is warranted.
“In certain extreme, unique situations we believe there needs to be the death penalty,” Kleine told members of the Judiciary Committee during hearings on LB 268, sponsored by long-time death penalty opponent, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Chambers proposes doing away with executions in favor of a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kleine told the committee the association wants the option of the death penalty even though Nebraska hasn’t executed anyone for nearly 20 years.
“I do question sometimes that here I am in the trenches filing cases with aggravating circumstances, asking a jury to make that determination or a three-judge panel when the state can’t get its act together as far as the penalty itself,” Kleine testified.
The last person to be executed in Nebraska, Robert Williams, was put to death in the electric chair in 1997.
Among those in favor of the bill and opposed to the death penalty is the sister of a man murdered in one of the most notorious crimes in Nebraska history. James Thimm was brutally tortured, then killed by Michael Ryan at a religious cult compound in 1985. Ryan has used multiple appeals to keep from being executed.
Miriam Kelle, James Thimm’s brother, says the repeated appeals keep Ryan in the public spotlight and prolongs the suffering of her family.
“Thirty years and we’re still waiting for the promised execution makes it pretty much not something that’s viable,” Kelle tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
Kelle says lost in news coverage about the battle over the death penalty and the serial appeals by Ryan is the memory of her brother.
“Nothing is about him,” Kelle says. “They have almost made Michael a Hollywood case in fact when he should just be kind of forgotten and not given any status. He should not get any secondary reward for what he’s done.”