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Crime and Punishment

Over the past couple weeks, the Legislature has continued to advance proposals that soften our state’s approach to dealing with the most hardened and heinous criminals. These proposals, including the repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty and mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses, would make it more difficult for Nebraska law enforcement to prosecute the worst criminals and consequently would put Nebraska families and public safety at risk.

Proponents of repealing the death penalty like to say that Nebraska does not even have a death penalty because our state has not executed anyone since 1997. Whatever has happened in the past, this is a management problem, and I am committed to ensuring that Nebraska has a functional death penalty. Just last week, I announced that the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has purchased the drugs necessary to carry out the death penalty here in our state.

Even without executions in recent years, the death penalty in Nebraska has continued to play an important role in prosecuting criminals, protecting our families, and ensuring that criminals remain locked behind bars. Some proponents of repealing the death penalty have argued that the four walls of a prison and a life sentence instead of a death sentence is enough to protect the public from our society’s most heinous criminals. Here is an example that demonstrates why this way of thinking is wrong and misguided. In 1973, Laddie Dittrich was originally convicted of burglary and first degree murder for his involvement in the stabbing death of an Omaha man.  He received a life sentence. In April 2013, Dittrich was pardoned and his sentence was commuted from life to 80 years to life. Subsequently, Dittrich was paroled in May 2014. In November 2014, Dittrich was arrested for third degree sexual assault on a child involving a 10 year girl.

A recent case in the news also demonstrates the important role the death penalty plays in prosecuting the most heinous criminals. Last week, Douglas County prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty against Roberto Martinez-Marinero who has been charged with killing his mother, drowning his 5-year-old half-brother in a river, and discarding an 11-month-old infant in a dumpster. These are heinous crimes, and these criminals should receive a commensurate sentence.

If the Legislature gives final approval to repealing the death penalty, senators will open the door—quite literally—to more lenient sentences for death row inmates. This legislation not only repeals the death penalty for sentencing in future cases, but would also repeal the death sentences for the 11 inmates who currently sit on death row. Let me be clear: Advocates of LB268 are not only supporting the repeal of the death penalty in the future, but they are also voting to give lighter sentences to Nebraska’s most heinous murderers. Senators also amended the legislation so that current death row inmates would be given a “life sentence” instead of “life without parole.” This leaves open the possibility that our state’s most heinous murderers could be out on the streets once again.

Another concerning piece of legislation is LB173 which would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses and remove protections against revolving door criminals. In the past couple of weeks, the Legislature has tinkered with LB173 to make some changes, however, they have failed to address the concerns of top law enforcement about this bill. In its current form, this legislation would still repeal mandatory minimums for crimes such as production of child pornography, drive by shootings, and the use of a firearm to commit a felony. LB173 would also prevent law enforcement from using the “three strikes” option for habitual criminals including those convicted for arson in the second degree, gang recruitment, and possession of a firearm at a school.

Overwhelmingly, Nebraskans I talk to across our state are deeply concerned about the repeal of the death penalty and attempts by the Legislature to give more lenient sentences to hardened criminals. Events like the disturbance at Tecumseh demonstrate that we need to continue to maintain strong facilities and tough laws to protect Nebraskans. I am committed to standing up for the public safety of Nebraskans. It is the number one objective of government and I take it seriously.

It is never too late to let your senator know your thoughts on important issues. Your calls and emails are important to informing future votes, and ensuring your voice is being heard by your state senator. You can find all the information you need on how to contact your senator at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.

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