A total of 37 men have been executed by the state of Nebraska. Fifteen years after statehood, Nebraska conducted its first state execution by hanging, NETNebraska.org. Hanging continued to be the method of execution until 1913 when the state legislature took up the debate. They considered eliminating the death penalty. Instead, they kept it and changed the method to electrocution.
After using the electric chair 15 times, Nebraska ended up being the last state in the union with electrocution as its sole method for capital punishment. When stopping that practice in 2008, the seven-justice majority of the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on the evidence of pain during electrocutions. "It is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it," CNN.com. Although never used, lethal injection has been the only option for capital punishment in Nebraska since 2009.
Time Line of Capital Punishment in Nebraska
- First execution by Nebraska territorial court, Cyrus Tator, August 28, 1863.
- Nebraska became a state, March 1, 1867.
- First legal execution in Nebraska, Samuel D. Richards, April 26, 1879.
- Death of the only executed prisoner in Nebraska later exonerated, Jackson Marion, March 25, 1887.
- A man was hanged twice after the rope broke on the first attempt, Albert Haunstine, May 20, 1891.
- Last legal public hanging, George Morgan, October 8, 1897
- Method of capital punishment changed from hanging to the electric chair, March, 1913.
- First execution by electrocution (two men in one day), December 20, 1920
- Most notorious criminal executed in Nebraska, Charles Starkweather, June 25, 1959.
- U.S. Supreme Court blocked capital punishment, June 29, 1972.
- Nebraska Supreme Court issued rulings on four death penalty cases in one day to clarify the use of capital punishment, February 2, 1977.
- The last state execution to date, Robert Williams, December 2, 1997.
- Nebraska Supreme Court ruled electric chair violates ban on "cruel and unusual punishment," February 8, 2008.
- Lethal injection replaced electric chair as means of state execution, September 1, 2009.
"There is a real easy way to avoid ever getting the death penalty. Don't kill anyone else."
--Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning
Early death sentences were carried out by the counties. Since 1903, death sentences have been carried out at the state penitentiary. Of the 70 inmates who have sat on Death Row in Nebraska, 23 have been put to death. One, Charles Starkweather, murdered 10 people on a killing spree in 1958. It was the kind of case in which it is easy for proponents to argue the merits of capital punishment.
"The state should not kill."
--Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers
In one case, this state took an innocent man's life. William Jackson "Jack" Marion was convicted of shooting to death a friend named John Cameron in 1887. The dead body was paraded into the court. The conviction came after three trials and little evidence. The Clerk of the Gage County Court recorded his sentence: "He shall be taken by the sheriff to the place of execution and be hanged by the neck until dead, dead, dead" NETNebraska.org.
The Omaha Bee recorded Marion's final words on the gallows, "I have made no confession and have none to make. God help everybody. That is all I have to say" NETNebraska.org. About four years later, someone who did not believe John Cameron was the dead man found him in Kansas and brought him back to Nebraska. It was a century later, in 1987, that Governor Bob Kerry signed a pardon for Jack Marion.
The history of the death penalty in Nebraska presents extreme examples of a state struggling to create a system of justice. How does it sit with your views on crime and punishment?
Kelly, Bill, "Until He is Dead: A History of Nebraska's Death Penalty," NETNebraska.org, premiered 2-8-2013.
Kelly Omaha, "History of the Death Penalty in Nebraska," Dipity.com, 1-20-2013.
Mears, Bill, "Nebraska court bans the electric chair," Cnn.com, 2-8-2008.
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, "Capital Punishment: Rules & Regulations," Corrections.state.ne.us, (accessed 2-20-2013).
Young, JoAnne, "Nebraska Electric chair becoming historical artifact," Journalstar.com, 6-26-2008.