Omaha killer ordered to psychiatric hospital in effort to become competent for sentencing

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OMAHA, Nebraska — A judge on Tuesday ordered a man facing the death penalty for killing four Omaha residents last summer to be sent to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment in an effort to restore his mental competency, which would allow him to be sentenced.

The decision came in a brief hearing before Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon, who earlier this month found that Nikko Jenkins was not mentally fit enough to undergo sentencing.

Jenkins was convicted in April of four counts of first-degree murder for the August 2013 shotgun deaths of four people in three separate attacks.

Jenkins' public defender, Tom Riley, and Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine agreed that Jenkins should be sent to the Lincoln Regional Center, although Riley expressed concern that doctors at the hospital have already testified they believe Jenkins is feigning mental illness.

"I do have some concerns about their impartiality," he said. "That said, I'm not sure we have a whole heck of a lot of alternatives here."

Jenkins was not present at Tuesday's hearing, but a longtime death penalty opponent who has argued that Jenkins should not face execution did attend.

Omaha state Sen. Ernie Chambers sat in the back of the courtroom. Afterward, he told reporters that Jenkins is mentally ill and prosecutors should not seek the death penalty against him. The case has become politicized, he said, because Jenkins is a black man who killed a white woman, Andrea Kruger. Kruger was Jenkins' last victim. Three days earlier, he killed Curtis Bradford, a black man, and about a week before Bradford's death, he killed Juan Uribe-Pena and Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, both Hispanic men.

In making his argument, Chambers noted the case of 58-year-old Michael Petersen, of Glenvil, a white man who is serving life in prison for killing his ex-wife and divorce attorney — also both white — last year. In exchange for his pleas, prosecutors dropped their plans to seek the death penalty against him.

"It's a shadow show," Chambers said of Jenkins' prosecution. "I intend to watch this case every step of the way."

Jenkins pleaded no contest in April and was convicted in the shooting deaths that occurred over a 10-day period after his release from prison last July.

Prosecutors say Jenkins planned the killings to cover up robberies of the victims or to keep them from identifying him. Jenkins insists that he doesn't remember the killings but said an Egyptian god named Ahpophis ordered him in a foreign language to kill the four as human sacrifices.

Bataillon said he would schedule a follow-up hearing in 30 to 60 days.

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