Nebraska’s highest court upheld spree killer Nikko Jenkins’ conviction and death sentence for the August 2013 killings of four Omahans.
In a 53-page ruling, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Jenkins’ defense arguments that Jenkins’ court proceedings were irregular, including a bizarre plea hearing — and that he is too mentally ill to be put to death.
“We cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in finding Jenkins to be competent to waive counsel, to enter no contest pleas, to proceed to sentencing, and to be sentenced to death,” the high court wrote. “We reject Jenkins’ constitutional challenges to the death penalty and affirm his convictions and sentences.”
The high court’s ruling doesn’t end the appeals for Jenkins, one of the most recent additions to death row. Nor does it end the court actions on his behalf.
Jenkins’ attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, recently filed to have him removed from death row because state officials have declared him incompetent and in need of forced medications. This ruling didn’t address that request.
But it does end the anticipation over one of the biggest intervals in the appellate process — the direct appeal, where the high court decides whether Jenkins received a fair shot through the justice system.
It's been six years since Jenkins, 32, unleashed a 10-day spree of terror within two weeks of his release from prison.
On Aug. 11, 2013, Jenkins, his sister Erica and his cousin Christine Bordeaux went to Tquila Night Club near 30th and Q Streets. The two women lured Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz and Juan Uribe-Pena to Spring Lake Park on the pretense that they would have sex. Jenkins then used a shotgun to blow holes in the two men's heads.
On Aug. 13, 2013, Nikko and Erica Jenkins then killed his former fellow prisoner, Curtis Bradford. Photos showed him and Bradford posing for the camera flashing purported gang signs in the hours before Nikko and Erica Jenkins lured him to a house on the pretense of committing a robbery. The two then took turns shooting Bradford in the head.
On Aug. 23, 2013, Nikko, Erica Jenkins, Bordeaux and the Jenkins' uncle Warren "Unc" Levering originally set out to rob concert-goers at rapper Lil Wayne's performance in downtown Omaha. After that plan fizzled, the four drove to northwest Omaha in the early morning hours. They pulled in front of Andrea Kruger, who was returning home from her shift as a bartender. Jenkins pulled her out of the driver's seat and shot her in the head, killing her.
Jenkins' hearings were often described as circuses — in which Jenkins tried to dominate the proceedings and sometimes claimed to be speaking in tongues to an Egyptian serpent god.
In one hearing, he called Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and a World-Herald reporter to the stand, which is unusual. Even more unusual, Judge Peter Bataillon allowed him to call both witnesses. The lead prosecutor isn't a witness; and shield law typically precludes a reporter from taking the stand.
Jenkins' plea hearing was the climactic example of business as unusual in Jenkins' case.
After Judge Peter Bataillon allowed Jenkins to act as his own legal counsel, Jenkins declared that he wanted to plead no contest to killing Uribe-Pena, Cajiga-Ruiz, Bradford and Kruger .
The reason Jenkins gave for wanting to plead: He wanted to get on with a federal habeas corpus lawsuit challenging his incarceration by claiming he was being held based in part on unconstitutionally gathered evidence.
That strategy was flawed, as several lawyers noted at the time. No defendant should expect to succeed by pleading no contest to charges, getting convicted and then challenging that the conviction was obtained through illegally gathered evidence.
Bataillon repeatedly informed Jenkins he should go to trial to challenge any evidence. The judge also took a rare step — he met with Jenkins and his then-advisory attorneys in chambers, without prosecutors present, for about a half hour before Jenkins pleaded.
Apparently, no transcript was taken of that conversation, although the judge summed it up later during the court hearing. He said he assured Jenkins that he could resolve any problems that Jenkins was having with jailers and with his access to the jail’s law library.
After Jenkins insisted on pleading, the judge informed him he would have to plead guilty rather than “no contest.” Jenkins initially pleaded guilty but said he couldn’t remember shooting each of the victims. He stopped short anytime he got close to describing the actual killings — sometimes bursting into garbled speech in which he claimed to be talking to his serpent god.
Faced with a defendant who wouldn’t describe his guilty actions, Bataillon rethought his original stance, relented and allowed Jenkins to plead no contest. Under no contest pleas, prosecutors could give the factual basis of the murder charges.
Jenkins’ attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, argued that the judge's changing conditions in which he would accept Jenkins' plea transformed the plea hearing into one that involved coercion.
Beyond the appeal, Riley has filed a couple of motions to try to get Jenkins off of death row on the suggestion that he is severely mentally ill and, thus, incapable of being executed. Riley filed a motion earlier this month — similar to one he filed last year — in which he noted that Nebraska Department of Corrections psychiatrists and psychologists have twice in the past year found that Jenkins is "psychotic, delusional, acting upon command hallucinations and is seriously mentally ill."
Jenkins has a history of cutting himself, including his private parts, tattooing his face and carving his skin with Satan, Hitler and 666 666 (though it came out backwards because he was looking into a mirror.)
A panel of doctors within Corrections determined that "Jenkins is currently psychotic, delusional, acting upon command hallucinations and is seriously mentally ill." Riley accused Corrections director Scott Frakes of failing to "carry out his statutory duty to notify the District Court of Douglas County of defendant's mental illness."
Under state law: "If any convicted person under sentence of death shall appear to be incompetent, the Director of Correctional Services shall forthwith give notice thereof to a judge of the district court of the judicial district in which the convicted person was tried and sentenced."
That request has yet to be ruled on.
Stay with Omaha.com for more on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling in the Jenkins’ case.