Death-Penalty News and Developments for the Week of July 1521, 2019: Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for Nikko Jenkins

NEWS: July 19The Nebraska Supreme Court has upheld the convictions and death sentences in the case of Nikko Jenkins, who was convicted of four murders committed in Omaha in August 2013. The court rejected the challenge that Jenkins—who has attempted suicide on multiple occasions—should not be subject to the death penalty because of mental illness.

NEWS: July 18In a highly publicized federal capital prosecution, Brendt Christesen was sentenced to life without parole after a Peoria, Illinois jury did not reach unanimous agreement on the appropriate sentence for the rape and murder of an international graduate student. The case attracted attention fueled by the sensationalistic nature of the killing, the fact that the victim’s body was never recovered, and because federal prosecutors sought the death penalty in a state that had abolished capital punishment.

NEWS: July 18A Richmond County judge resentenced former Georgia death-row prisoner Ernest U. Morrison to life without parole, 32 years after he was first sentenced to death. News reports stated that Morrison’s death sentence was overturned in 2008 based on evidence that his defense lawyer had fabricated evidence and presented argument in favor of the death penalty in his case.

NEWS: July 17By a vote of 15-1, the International Court of Justice has found that Pakistan had violated international law by trying and sentencing Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav to death in a military court without allowing him to contact or obtain the assistance of Indian diplomatic personnel. The court ruled that Pakistan had breached its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and ordered Pakistan to stay Jadhav’s execution until he could receive “meaningful review” of his case. Pakistani prosecutors had asserted that Jadhav was not entitled to the help of his home country because he was a spy—a charge that both he and the government of India deny.

NEWS: July 16By a vote of 4-3, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against Craig Wood in his appeal of a death sentence imposed by the trial judge after the jury did not reach a unanimous verdict. Three justices would have overturned Wood’s death sentence on the grounds that the trial judge’s imposition of a death sentence after the jury was declared hung violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Two of the justices also would have overturned the death sentence because the trial prosecutor successfully excluded defense testimony from the victim’s mother that she wanted Wood to be sentenced to life and then, in closing argument, told the jury it could speak for the victim and her family by sentencing him to death. Those two justices also would have overturned the death sentence because the prosecution was permitted to present evidence to the jury that police found more than 20 guns in a search of Wood’s house, even though none of those guns were related to the murder.

Pictured, from left to right: Witness to Innocence board mem­ber and for­mer DPIC Executive Director, Richard Dieter; Catholic Mobilizing Network Executive Director, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy; European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore; DPIC Executive Director, Robert Dunham; American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project Director & Chief Counsel, Emily Olsen-Gault; and Reprieve Staff Attorney Mark Maher

On July 15, DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham was among five death-penalty experts to meet with EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore in a roundtable discussion of the death penalty in the United States. Also participating in the meeting at the Washington, D.C. offices of the European Union delegation to the United States were Richard Dieter, representing Witness to Innocence; Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the Catholic Mobilizing Network; Emily Olsen-Gault, the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project; and Mark Maher, Reprieve.