CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nebraska: Refusal to Commute Sentence Leaves the AG Wanting to "Throw Up"

From the "A commutation hearing prompted Nebraska's attorney general to say government can be too tough on criminals, and sometimes it makes him sick.

State officials decided Wednesday that a man should continue to serve a life sentence for his role in a murder, but the parole board's decision is controversial because the man was 17 at the time, and didn't commit the murder himself.  Jeremy Herman and Christopher Masters kidnapped Jeremy Drake, 15, in 1992. They were scuffling over stolen stereo speakers. Masters shot and killed Drake near Omaha's Hummel Park, while Herman said he just wanted to scare Drake.

But Herman pleaded guilty and under Nebraska law was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On Wednesday, the Nebraska Board of Pardons held a rare hearing to decide whether or not to commute that sentence. Among the people in support of a lesser sentence was the victim's mother, who told the board the Herman didn't intend to hurt her son...

The issue sparked a heated debate during the hearing between the state's top officials.

"In my three years on this board, we have not commuted a single one," said Attorney General Jon Bruning. "And as I looked at this, I thought, this might be the single one."

In the end, two of the board's three members -- Gov. Dave Heineman and Secretary of State John Gale -- voted not to change Herman's sentence. That didn't end the argument over criminal sentencing.

"I'm tougher on crime -- I'm so tough it makes me want to throw up sometimes," Bruning said. "How tough on crime can we get before it gets to be ridiculous?"

"The Legislature is getting tougher and tougher, and Congress is getting tougher and tougher. More people are seeing more time," Gale said.

"And it's costing taxpayers more and more, and at some point it has to end," Bruning said.

"It's the voice of the people that's driving this issue," Gale said.

"It's the will of politicians trying to get re-elected," Bruning said. "We are continuously trying to get ourselves reelected, trying to be tougher than the next guy, and at some point it has got to end. And this commute is where it is."...Gale echoed that, and said the Wednesday's hearing has raised the issue of perhaps allowing more hearings on unusual cases...Herman can try again to have his sentence commuted. Full story... [Mark Godsey]

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