"Attorneys challenge state death penalty," is the Lincoln Journal Star report written by Nicholas Bergin.
The attorneys for a man convicted of murdering a Brazilian missionary family have asked an Omaha judge to rule the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional in a bid to save their client from being sentenced to die.
A jury convicted Jose Oliveira-Coutinho on Oct. 5 of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of theft in connection with the 2009 deaths of Vanderlei Szczepanik; his wife, Jacqueline; and their 7-year-old son, Christopher. The jury found aggravating circumstances existed, clearing the way for a three-judge panel to decide whether the crimes warrant execution.
A date for sentencing has not been set.
Oliveira-Coutinho's attorneys, Todd Lancaster and Horacio Wheelock, on Tuesday filed a 25-page motion in Douglas County District Court listing nine grounds on which Nebraska’s execution law allegedly violates the U.S. and state constitutions. Most of their arguments already have been presented in Nebraska courts and failed to gain traction.
One of the less tested arguments in the motion is that use of the death penalty has declined to the extent that it now amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. In 1996 -- the high-water mark for the death penalty in the United States -- 315 people were sentenced to die by 31 states and the federal government. Last year, 78 people got the death sentence, a 75 percent decrease.
The motion also argues existing state statues are vague, allow arbitrary and discriminatory application of the death penalty, and fail to give defendants proper notice of how and when a sentence of death will be applied.
Nebraska switched its method of execution to lethal injection after a 2008 ruling by the state Supreme Court that the electric chair amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
When it comes to lethal injection and deciding on the chemicals, procedures and policies for execution, the motion argues it should be the call of the Legislature, not prison officials.
The Arkansas Supreme Court last year ruled unconstitutional a law there that delegated the choice of lethal injection drugs to that state's Department of Corrections.