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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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