ILNews

Nebraska: Electric chair unconstitutional

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A landmark ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court this morning means that the last state allowing electric chair executions can't use the method because it's considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The 6-1 ruling today in State of Nebraska v. Richard Mata, Jr., S-05-1268, affirms the death sentence but stays the execution. The court decided that the legislature may vote to have a death penalty but not one that offends rights under the state constitution. Because the decision is based solely on state law, the U.S. Supreme Court won't review the ruling.

The court ruled on the case of Raymond Mata Jr., who was convicted by a jury for the May 1999 kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment of 3-year-old Adam Gomez, his ex-girlfriend's son. A three-judge panel later sentenced him to die.

"We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer," Justice William Connolly wrote. "But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes."

Chief Justice Michael Heavican disagreed in a 17-page dissent that execution was "cruel and unusual," noting that he sincerely believes this precedent will have adverse consequences on future cases. But he joined the majority on a variety of other issues in the case, including that Mata should be executed for the crime.

This decision comes at a time when state and federal courts, along with the 36 states allowing the death penalty, are struggling with these issues. All states except Nebraska - including Indiana - use a three-chemical lethal injection method, which is currently being challenged in the nation's highest court. Justices heard arguments in January on a case involving two Kentucky condemned inmates.

All that debate and today's Nebraska decision gives Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, three Indiana attorneys, and a law professor something more to talk about on a radio show this weekend.

As part of his "Crime Beat" program airing at 8 p.m. Sunday, Brizzi will tackle the death penalty through the eyes of the prosecution, defense, and academia. Guests include Rick Kammen, Gilroy Kammen & Hill, and Bob Hammerle, Hammerle & Allen, both on the defense side; David Wyser, Marion County Prosecutor's Office; and professor Henry Karlson, Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis.

The live, weekly show airs on WIBC, 93.1 F.M. from 8 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Brizzi discusses matters relating to public safety, the justice system, and current events. Following the Feb. 10 show, the program moves to its new regular timeslot at 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
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