January 25, 2019 / 8:29 PM / a month ago

Nebraska Supreme Court rejects death row inmates' appeal

(Reuters) - The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal by death row inmates who said their punishments became void when the state legislature repealed capital punishment in 2015, before voters restored the penalty the following year.

In a 7-0 decision, the court agreed with a state district court judge that the eight inmates pursuing the appeal had other legal means to challenge their sentences individually.

The inmates had sought a declaratory judgment that the voter referendum did not overturn the legislature’s abolition of capital punishment, which overrode a veto by Republican Governor Pete Ricketts.

Chief Justice Michael Heavican said that judgment was unavailable because the inmates could pursue the “equally serviceable” remedies of postconviction or direct appeals.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, which represented the inmates, said it looked forward to pursuing their claims individually.

“Today’s ruling does not resolve our clients’ claims that, after the legislature’s 2015 repeal of the death penalty, they no longer may be executed,” Executive Director Danielle Conrad said in a statement.

The ACLU had sued in December 2017, saying the referendum was invalid in part because Ricketts provided financing and played a significant organizational role, violating the separation of powers.

Ricketts is a son of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp founder Joe Ricketts, and his family owns baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

Nebraska carried out its first execution in 21 years last Aug. 14, in the first instance of a state using the opioid fentanyl in a lethal injection.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown

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