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Nebraska abolishes the death penalty

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Nebraska just became the latest US state to abolish the death penalty. State lawmakers today defeated a veto from Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, joining Washington, DC and 18 states where capital punishment is already banned.

Though it is a solidly Republican state, lawmakers were able to overturn the governor's veto with a 30 to 19 vote that reached across party lines. As The New York Times reports, Nebraska's conservative senators cited practical, religious, or moral reasons in their support of a ban on the controversial practice.

As Nebraska eliminates the death penalty, many of its peers are scrambling to find ways to kill prisoners amid legal challenges and a supply squeeze by pharmaceutical companies. Shortages of commonly used lethal drugs have forced states to seek alternative, untested methods that have led to gruesome executions. In April 2014, for example, death row inmate Charles Warner appeared to writhe in pain for nearly an hour after he was given a lethal injection, eventually dying of a heart attack.

Some states have gone in the opposite direction to solve the issue. In March, Utah reinstated death by firing squad to execute prisoners when lethal injection drugs are not available.

While cracks are being made in the death penalty at the state level, the federal government can still impose capital punishment across the country. The United States is one of 36 countries that still puts prisoners to death, including Afghanistan, China, Japan, North Korea, Syria, and others.