Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Facing Execution, Nikko Jenkins Continues His Bizarre Legal Journey

Nikko Jenkins told everyone he understood.

He understood he was giving up his right to a trial.He understood he was admitting to the murder of four people.He understood what happened in court could land him on death row.

Just when everyone thought, "okay, this should wrap things up," Jenkins started back-tracking, bobbing, weaving, and (I say this without fear of libeling or slandering the man) talking crazy. 

By the end of this day in court Nikko Jenkins talked his way into, at the very least, a lifetime in prison without parole and the prospect of being executed by the State of Nebraska.

He entered the court room of Judge Peter Bataillon demanding to enter a guilty plea to four counts of murder, being in possession guns and using them to commit the crime. Two hours later, stretching the patience of judge and prosecutor, Jenkins changed his mind again, pleading no contest to every count. It gave the judge the authority to pronounce him guilty on all counts.

Nikko Jenkins (Douglas Co Corrections)
Jenkins did it his way. The people who could have helped, the defense attorney "advisors" from the public defenders office, stayed close but stayed silent. The confessed killer wanted to serve as his own attorney. He wanted to explain the murders.

And what an explanation.  

The judge asked him if he killed his first two victims. "My physical person may have been there but I was not in that spiritual moment."  Jenkins claims he was moved to kill when he "heard the voice of the underworld god. That's who assassinated these individuals." It all has something to do with the "War of Revelations."

Growing more agitated as he spoke of each of the murders, Jenkins told the court he recalls seeing the victims before they were murdered but doesn't remember firing the shots or seeing their bodies. At times during his explanation he slipped into speaking in tongues or some sort of unidentifiable language. (Todd Cooper of the World-Herald earlier wrote it was the language of Jenkins personal "serpent god" Opophis. I have no reason to doubt that.)

The confession Jenkins gave to police after his arrest did not place as much of the blame on Lucifer and Opophis, according to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.

If there is any temptation to smirk at the absurd and surreal courtroom antics, its necessary to remind oneself why Jenkins was here. Jenkins killed four people within ten days.

The first two execution-style murders made the news barely two weeks after the Nebraska Department of Corrections released Jenkins from prison. Juan Uribe-Pena and Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz were shot in the head while sitting in a pick-up truck in South Omaha. A week later a man who became friends with Jenkins in jail, 22-year old Curtis Bradford, was found outside a garage in a residential neighborhood on the north side. Two days later on the city’s west side Andrea Kruger, a waitress heading home after her shift, was shot to death and her SUV stolen. It took a few days for Omaha police to make sense out of three seemingly unrelated homicides and pull together the evidence tying them all back to the recent parolee, Nikko Jenkins.

Always methodical prosecutor Kleine laid out the details of each murder in court today. It was a 30-minute summary of what would have been presented over two or three weeks had the case gone to trial. The autopsies. The ballistics tests. The witnesses. The confessions. (Jenkins apparently killed Ms. Kruger to steal her SUV because he wanted a nice car to drive to an upcoming Lil' Wayne concert.)

Jenkins interrupted Kleine a couple of times to have him repeat descriptions of the victim’s wounds. That was too much for the family of Curtis Bradford, who fled the courtroom in tears. 

To accept Jenkins guilty plea Judge Bataillon needed the accused to say he accepted as fact statements made by the county attorney.  Jenkins wouldn't do it.  "Everything he said is completely false," said the man who started the day telling the court he was guilty. 

Clearly frustrated, the Judge changed course and asked Jenkins if he would be willing to submit a no-contest plea instead of admitting his guilt. Yes he would, but....

Jenkins launched into a rehash of claims about being treated unfairly, violations of his constitutional rights, and accusations against police involved in the murder investigation. As he spoke the five sheriff deputies providing security moved in closer to the fidgety defendant. 

The judge had enough. He cut Jenkins off in mid-sentence telling him if he had complaints he wanted to share with the world to contact the media and "do it on your own time."

A few minutes later, Jenkins was found guilty of four counts of murder.

Jenkins had one more choice to make. Should a judge or a jury decide if he deserved to be executed?  The U.S. Supreme Court says anyone facing a death sentence gets a hearing to weigh factors favoring the death penalty (like the cruelty of the crime) against factors favoring mercy (like not having a prior criminal record). Jenkins chose to leave it up to the judges. 

County Attorney Kleine leaves court (Photo: Kelly)
Judge Bataillon all but begged Jenkins to turn over his case to the public defenders office for this stage of the proceedings and stop trying to represent himself in court. It was clear throughout the day Jenkins had no grasp of the most basic legal procedures. 

Jenkins continues to insist he can go it alone. At a hearing in March Judge Bataillon warned him it’s a job that “would be very difficult for any lawyer.” Jenkins didn’t flinch. “I understand all those risks.” While mental heath experts had serious doubts about the man’s grasp on reality, Jenkins insisted he was “intellectually able” to represent himself. Back in court a couple weeks later the scope of his intellectual abilities was on full display as he swore at the judge, mocked the prosecutors, laughed manically when asked if he was competent, and howled at the bank of cameras in the hallway when being lead back to jail.  

It's likely that Jenkins' mental health will come up for discussion again. He stated repeatedly in court that he's schizophrenic and two doctors came to the same conclusion. Three other psychiatrists doubt that diagnosis and indicated he's a man capable of playing deranged to work the system.

Leaving the courtroom, in the few seconds Nikko Jenkins appeared before the wall of waiting TV cameras, he shouted out something or other in the language of his serpent god, disappearing behind a door on his way back to jail.