When the Nebraska Supreme Court stayed the execution of convicted killer Randy K. Reeves on January 12, family members of his two victims were among the most relieved. Reeves had been scheduled to be electrocuted on January 14.

Reeves, 42, was convicted of stabbing to death Janet Mesner, 30, and Victoria Lamm, 28, in Central City, Nebraska, in March 1980. At the time, Mesner was abusing drugs and alcohol. The two women died in a Quaker meeting house, where Mesner had been the caretaker.

Janet Mesner's parents, Kenneth and Mildred Mesner, are lifelong opponents of the death penalty. The state's insistence on execution upset Mildred Mesner. "We do not want Randy to be killed on our behalf, or in Janet's name," she says. "That will not bring us any comfort at all."

Gus and Audrey Lamm, the widower and daughter of the other victim, concurred. They toured Nebraska, met with Reeves in prison, and spoke out against capital punishment. Their attorney also has filed an appeal, claiming that the Lamms should be able to address the parole board. Several religious leaders in the state, including Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist, and Episcopal bishops, joined the cause.

The state supreme court's reprieve will permit the court to consider whether Reeves's execution violates Nebraska's new equal protection law. Reeves is an Omaha Indian, and his attorneys contend that nonwhite prisoners in Nebraska receive a disproportionately high number of death sentences.

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