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'Boys Don't Cry' Mom: Keep Nebraska's Death Penalty

A bill to repeal capital punishment cleared another hurdle on Friday.
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Nebraska moved closer Friday to repealing the death penalty, thanks to Republican and conservative lawmakers who argue it's a waste of taxpayer money, a failed government program, and cruel to victims' families who wait decades for an execution.

The relatives of those killed by the 11 men on death row are divided about whether capital punishment should end in the Cornhusker State — the goal of a bill that cleared its second hurdle with a 30-16 vote on Friday.

The mother of Brandon Teena, the transgender murder victim whose story was the basis of the film "Boys Dont Cry," said life in prison without parole isn't enough for the man convicted of killing the 21-year-old and two other people in 1993.

"I want him to die," Joann Brandon said of death-row inmate John Lotter. "It will bring some closure to me. It bothers me every day because I think about my daughter constantly and I don't see any justice being done for her.

"He was sentenced to die. He should have died a long time ago."

A cult leader who tortured and killed Miriam Thimm Kelle's brother in 1985 has been on death row even longer, but Kelle supports repeal.

Her opposition to the death penalty stems in part from her religious beliefs — she's Mennonite — but Kelle also says the drawn-out legal process in executions in emotionally exhausting.

"I lost another brother to a car accident. It was quick — you bury them and you grieve," she said. "With this, you have to re-grieve all the time. It's like picking off scabs continually."

"He should have died a long time ago."

Nebraska hasn't executed anyone since 1997. Until this week, it didn't even have the drugs necessary for lethal injection.

But on Thursday evening, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that the state has obtained the three drugs — two of them from a supplier in India.

Ricketts has vowed to veto any repeal legislation, but it appears the abolitionists have the 30 votes needed for an override, and possibly even the 33 votes to overcome any filibusters. It needs be passed one more time to get to Ricketts' desk.

"You have to re-grieve all the time. It's like picking off scabs continually."

The movement is "pushing together an unlikely coalition of political allegiances," University of Nebraska law professor Eric Berger said.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers, a firebrand Democrat who recently came under fire for comparing police officers to ISIS.

He's made at least three dozen other attempts to end capital punishment in the state. The reason he may succeed this time is because Republican and conservative lawmakers have signed on.

Some of them believe an anti-execution stance is consistent with pro-life policies. Another factor driving them is the expense of capital cases, which drag on through years of appeals.

"Nebraska tends to be very cost-conscious," Berger said. "And there is growing sentiment here that capital punishment is a failed government program...It's something the state has proven inept at managing."

Joann Brandon dismisses those complaints.

"I think it's worth the money and time," she said of executions.

Brandon said her life was destroyed by her child's violent end; Teena was raped by two men who discovered he was transgender and then later killed for reporting the sexual assault to police.

When Brandon heard about the repeal effort, she was "devastated," she said.

"I'd like to tell them [legislators] what pills I have to take to get through the day, what this is doing to me personally, seeing him just sitting on death row," she said.

Kelle said she was opposed to the death penalty even before self-proclaimed prophet Michael Wayne Ryan gruesomely murdered her brother James Thimm — sodomizing him with a shovel handle, shooting off his fingers and skinning his leg before stomping him to death.

But 30 years after his conviction, she's even more sure that an execution won't bring her peace.

"We don't have to kill people," she said.