OMAHA, Nebraska — A judge on Tuesday delayed a ruling on whether a man convicted of killing four people in Omaha just weeks after he left prison is competent to participate in a hearing to determine if he will face the death penalty.
Judge Peter Bataillon accepted a report from state experts that said Nikko Jenkins, 28, is competent and could understand the sentencing proceedings. The judge didn't rule on the report and set another hearing for March 2.
Jenkins was convicted last year after he pleaded no contest to the murder charges, but his sentencing has been on hold because of questions about his mental competency. State doctors have been evaluating Jenkins since last summer.
In court Tuesday, Jenkins maintained that he understands the process, pointing to numerous handwritten lawsuits and motions he has filed in the past six months as proof.
"Your honor, you allowed me to plead no contest to four first-degree murders and 16 weapons charges. I'm pretty sure that I'm competent enough to tell you that I'm competent today," Jenkins told the judge.
But Jenkins' lawyer, Tom Riley, said he may have remaining questions about his client's competence. Jenkins and Riley will have to decide whether to challenge the report from the state's psychiatrists.
Jenkins was allowed to represent himself earlier in the process, but Riley was appointed to be his lawyer for the sentencing phase.
If Jenkins is found to be competent, a three-judge panel will determine whether he receives the death penalty.
"We're anxious to proceed here and get some finality to this case," Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said.
Jenkins pleaded no contest in April and was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting to death Juan Uribe-Pena, Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger in the 10 days after his release from prison in July 2013.
Prosecutors said Jenkins planned the killings to conceal that he had robbed the victims or to keep them from identifying him. Jenkins has insisted 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.
A defense psychiatrist has testified at hearings that Jenkins suffers from schizophrenia and perhaps a bipolar disorder. A prosecution psychiatric expert has testified that Jenkins acts out and was lying about his mental state.
After Jenkins was convicted last April, he was later declared incompetent to face the sentencing portion of his case.
The three state experts who have been examining Jenkins since August devoted much of their 31-page report to recounting his troubled history dating back to childhood trauma. Ultimately, they decided Jenkins' symptoms and inconsistent history don't support a major mental illness.
"While Mr. Jenkins may behave in ways that disrupt the proceedings and ineffectively communicate with counsel, these behaviors are largely volitional and related to personality characteristics, as opposed to a major mental illness," the state experts said in the report.
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