Judge Decides Validity of Death Penalty in Szczepanik Murders
Thursday, a judge will hear why the ringleader in the Szczepanik family murders will die for his crimes. KMTV Action 3 News has learned the defense is asking Nebraska's death penalty be deemed unconstitutional. Judge Thomas Otepka is taking the motion under consideration, and will make the ruling sometime soon.
Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho could become Nebraska's 12th person currently on death row. In October 2012, he was convicted of beating Vanderlei Szczepanik to death and hanging his wife and son at a former school they were renovating. 7-year-old Christopher's remains were found in the Missouri River years after the family went missing.
Oliveira-Coutinho's attorney says the changing standards in decency and declining executions show the death penalty is unconstitutional. In fact, a bill to repeal the death penalty is going through the Nebraska Legislature right now. The bill would give death row inmates a mandatory Life without Parole sentence.
But prosecutors in the Oliveira-Coutinho case argue the low number of executions don't show the death penalty is going away. Also in October, a jury found there were aggravating circumstances surrounding Oliveira-Coutinho's crime that would make him eligible for the death penalty.
State Senator Brad Ashford says the vote on repealing the death penalty could be close, but district courts should continue to decide on their own if cases are punishable by death.
"I think they need to go through the process. They're required to go through the process within a certain time frame and they need to do that," Senator Ashford explained.
Thursday a three judge panel will hear arguments if Oliveira-Coutinho should be put on death row.
Repealing the law could be on the Nebraska Unicameral Floor by next week. If passed it would take effect immediately. Senator Ashford says he expects the vote to be close.