LINCOLN - Sarpy County District Judge Ronald Reagan was among the three judges who, in 1984, sentenced child-killer John Joubert to die in Nebraska's electric chair.
Last week Reagan, who retired in 2005, was among the people urging state lawmakers to repeal the death penalty, which he called "state-sanctioned revenge."
The former judge's testimony came as a surprise during an afternoon-long hearing on a bill to change the state's method of execution to lethal injection and another bill to do away with capital punishment.
Reagan said Friday in an interview that he has always opposed capital punishment "on philosophical grounds."
It's a viewpoint, he said, that he believes is shared by other judges, but judges are barred from expressing or acting on their opinions while on the bench.
"I've always felt that I couldn't say anything for 32 years," said Reagan, who was appointed a judge in 1972.
"Judges aren't supposed to be political activists. We're supposed to apply the law that is given us."
Joubert's death sentence met the requirements of the law, Reagan said.
Joubert, who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, kidnapped, tortured and killed two Sarpy County boys, Danny Joe Eberle, 13, and Christopher Walden, 12, in 1983.
When Joubert pleaded guilty, he also admitted to the slaying of an 11-year-old boy in his home state of Maine two years earlier.
Reagan, along with District Judges Robert Finn of Tecumseh and Theodore Carlson of Omaha, unanimously agreed on the death sentence. Joubert was executed in 1996.
Reagan, 70, said that while imposing the death sentence bothered him, other judicial decisions bothered him, too. In the end, he said, a judge has to put aside his personal views.
State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, a death penalty supporter and sponsor of the lethal injection bill, said he respected the judge for following the law notwithstanding his personal opinion about capital punishment.
"I know it's hard on judges," Flood said. "It's a difficult decision to make. It's difficult to hear the evidence. Heinous murders have an effect on the entire community."
Flood, who is speaker of the Legislature, said he disagreed with Reagan's description of the death penalty as "state-sanctioned revenge." Flood said "retribution" is an element in all criminal penalties.
The death penalty is "a proportional, measured response to unspeakable behavior," Flood said. "I know that's hard to understand if you oppose the death penalty."
Reagan said that no one asked him to testify at the hearing and that he thought few people knew of his personal views on capital punishment before then.
He said he sees no general deterrent value to the death penalty, other than that the condemned will never kill again.
"It's not going to lower the murder rate," Reagan said.
He said the death penalty isn't always applied fairly. Many murder cases that could result in capital punishment, he said, end in a plea bargain in which that possible sentence is dropped.
"I'm a citizen here. I'd just as soon not have a death penalty," Reagan said. "It just seems to me that people are recognizing that the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment in a civilized society."