By Nicholas Sauma, Opinion Editor
Perhaps some might remember when Nebraska finally ended its use of the electric chair for the death penalty in 2008, but the movement to abolish the death penalty in the state has been a far quieter force.
State senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha has introduced a bill this session to abolish the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment without parole. This is the 37th time he has done so, and it has failed, albeit closely at times, every single time.
Why can’t people let go of the death penalty?
Evidence has been building for years that it costs more for the state to execute an individual than to imprison them, and most proponents of the death penalty acknowledge that. They hold on to one principle fiercely- that some crimes are so heinous only death can adequately punish them.
Entertaining that notion, and assuming the perpetrator’s guilt is unquestionable, what justification is there for spending tons of taxpayer dollars in order to fund appeal after appeal and for delaying the execution for years? The nature of the death sentence has changed from what it was historically. You won’t be tried, convicted, and executed within weeks as it once was because our society has placed more value on due process of law, and also upon withholding capital punishment except when sure there is no chance of an innocent being executed.
When I researched Nebraska’s history with the death penalty, I found a man, William Jackson Marion, was executed by the state for the murder of another man who showed up four years after his execution. Now, this case was a long time ago, however, the case in question took only five years from sentencing to hanging. DNA exoneration has been a major player in limiting the application of the death penalty for the last decade, and the point isn’t that only a minority of people are actually innocent. It’s that the state was going to execute innocents.
I think the question is no longer one about theoretical applications of justice, punishment, deterrence, or the like, but rather, a question of when people will let go of a practice that no longer makes any sense to do. The argument for capital punishment has become an argument from exceptions. That is, picking out horrendously heinous crimes and asking if that person deserves to live the rest of their days out paid for by the state.
No matter how you look at it, capital punishment is an antiquated, morally dubious action at best. It costs more than life imprisonment without parole, it risks ending the lives of innocent people, and it requires individuals to judge another’s life forfeit in the name of justice. While the hearing date has passed, there’s still time to call up your state senator and tell them exactly how you feel on the issue. Nebraska has had some close votes in the past, and this is not a political issue. Republican, Democrat, right or left wing, this issue centers on what you value as just, and that makes it a far more important issue than many others.