Nebraska: Electric chair unconstitutional

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
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.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.