Nebraska abolished the death penalty on Wednesday in a landmark vote backed by an unusual coalition of conservatives who oppose capital punishment.
Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override the veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973. Nebraska joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia in banning the death penalty.
Maryland was previously the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate to liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut in 2012.
Nebraska's prohibition of capital punishment is unusual because of its traditionally conservative leanings. Nebraska's officially nonpartisan Legislature consists of 35 registered Republicans, 13 Democrats and an independent.
Some Nebraska senators said they philosophically support the death penalty but are convinced the state will never carry out another execution because of legal obstacles. It hasn't executed an inmate since a 1997 electrocution, and it has never done so with its current lethal injection protocol.
Nebraska lost its ability to execute inmates in December 2013, when one of the lethal injection drugs expired in its supply of the three required by state law.
Ricketts announced this month that the state has arranged to buy the necessary drugs, but opponents have said they still aren't convinced Nebraska will be able to resume executions. On Tuesday, Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson implored lawmakers to give officials more time to prepare.
The repeal bill was introduced by independent Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has fought for nearly four decades to repeal the death penalty.
A Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency was investigating death threats left on the answering machine of a state senator who supports the repeal.
The last time Nebraska lawmakers passed a death penalty repeal bill was in 1979, but senators at the time didn't have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
Nebraska now has 10 men on death row, after one of them, Michael Ryan, died on Sunday of natural causes. He spent three decades on death row for the 1985 cult killings of two people, including a 5-year-old boy. During a legislative hearing earlier this year, Chambers testified that Ryan had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
The Associated Press