Understanding the Death Penalty

By Governor Pete Ricketts

Note: Due to the content of this week’s column, I am providing it to you privately without the use of taxpayer resources. Any questions regarding this column may be directed to Nancy at 402-657-0653.

Public safety is one of my top priorities as your Governor.  One of the tools law enforcement needs to keep our families and communities safe is laws that are tough-on-crime.  Criminal penalties like mandatory sentencing laws, three-strikes laws, and the death penalty act as deterrents and provide justice.

Last year, the Legislature passed Legislative Bill 268 to abolish the death penalty.  There was an immediate effort to allow Nebraska voters to decide the issue on the ballot.  During the summer of 2015, enough petition signatures were gathered not only to allow the people to vote, but also to prevent LB268 from going into effect until after the vote of the people this November.

Next month, voters will decide whether to abolish or keep the death penalty.  The question on the ballot pertains to retaining or repealing the bill the Legislature passed.  A vote to retain the bill passed by the Legislature will abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. A vote to repeal the bill passed by the Legislature will keep the death penalty in Nebraska.

I am a strong advocate to keep the death penalty because it is a critical tool for law enforcement and criminal prosecutors to protect public safety.

First, the death penalty protects our Corrections officers and law enforcement.  Every week, numerous men and women go to work in our Corrections system.  They risk their lives to provide security at our prisons as well as to deliver programming to help inmates become productive members of society upon release.  In prison management, the death penalty is a safeguard against violent criminals who are already behind bars.  Without the death penalty, an inmate sentenced to life in prison has nothing to lose by taking the life of a corrections officers.  In fact, there have been a number of law enforcement and corrections officers who have thanked me for my support of the death penalty.

The death penalty also helps protect our communities.  Those working to abolish the death penalty argue that life in prison will protect our communities; however, consider the story of Laddie Dittrich.  In 1973, Laddie Dittrich was convicted of burglary and first degree murder.  He received a life sentence.  Prior to my administration, the Pardons Board commuted the sentence of Dittrich from a life sentence to a sentence of 80 years to life.  Subsequently, Dittrich was paroled in 2014.  Later that year, Dittrich was arrested for third degree sexual assault involving a 10 year girl.  A life in prison sentence does not guarantee an offender will stay in prison, and it did not protect the community from Laddie Dittrich.

As we approach the vote, there is an increasing amount of misinformation.  For example, out-of-state advocates are discussing wrongful convictions and the possibility of putting innocent people to death.  This is an important conversation to have, however, nobody is claiming that any of Nebraska’s 10 death row inmates are innocent.  In fact, three of them are on video murdering five people in the attempted robbery of a Norfolk bank.  Checks and balances in Nebraska ensure that the death penalty is used sparingly and applied justly, and rapid advancements in DNA technology will help to ensure accuracy in future cases.

Anti-death penalty activists paid a researcher for a study that said the death penalty costs the state more money.  The study relies on out-of-state data rather than Nebraska statistics.  Attorney General Doug Peterson identified “serious inaccuracies” in the study, noting that the study suggests Nebraska incurs 20 times the costs realized by other states.  In fact, the Appropriations Bill advanced from the Unicameral’s independent legislative fiscal office found zero dollars in cost savings associated with abolishing the death penalty.

In the next couple of weeks, Nebraskans will weigh the arguments to abolish or keep the death penalty, and it’s important people have the facts instead of bad information.  It’s also critical that you read the ballot language very carefully.  A vote to retain LB 268 will abolish the death penalty in Nebraska.  A vote to repeal LB268 will keep the death penalty in Nebraska.

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