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Is Nikko Jenkins too mentally ill to be executed? Lawyer says so; prosecutors aren't sure

Is Nikko Jenkins too mentally ill to be executed? Lawyer says so; prosecutors aren't sure

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Nikko Jenkins (copy)

Nikko Jenkins is on death row in Nebraska after killing four people in Omaha shortly after his 2013 release from prison.

For the past two years, a panel of state psychiatrists and psychologists have determined that notorious killer Nikko Jenkins needs to be forcibly medicated to treat a mental illness.

And Jenkins’ attorney has noted what he calls the irony: Prison officials are pumping him full of psychotropic drugs to try to keep him mentally competent enough to pump him full of drugs to execute him, via the state’s lethal-injection protocol.

Now, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley is pointing to the forced-injection treatments of Jenkins as a reason that his execution should be stayed.

Riley filed a motion last week in Douglas County District Court for a stay of execution. In it, he pointed out that a panel of prison experts has unanimously voted four times over the past 28 months that Jenkins should be forced psychotropic medications to treat a mental illness.

Riley pointed to a Nebraska law that says: “If a defendant is sentenced to death and, after judgment, but before execution of the sentence, such person becomes mentally incompetent, execution of the sentence shall be stayed until such disability is removed.”

That doesn’t mean Jenkins should receive a stay, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said.

Kleine said it’s not unusual for a death-row inmate to have a mental illness. The key question is whether the person is capable of comprehending the process he’s going through.

The law in question also covers defendants who are preparing for trial. In those cases, defendants are sent to the Lincoln Regional Center until they can be made competent to stand trial.

Kleine further questioned whether it was prudent for a judge to even consider a motion to stay an execution that has yet to be scheduled.

“It’s not ripe yet,” he said. “I don’t know that there is anyone who is set for an execution, let alone Jenkins. There’s a number of people who are in a state of limbo with regard to death row.”

One reason: It appears the Nebraska Department of Corrections does not have the ability to carry out an execution. Late last year, corrections officials acknowledged that the department’s supply of lethal-injection drugs had expired after the August 2018 execution of Carey Dean Moore. Officials also acknowledged that they had yet to seek replacement drugs.

The state has a long and sordid history of attempting to obtain execution drugs — a process made difficult by pharmaceutical companies not wanting to deal with consumer backlash for providing so-called death drugs.

In a 10-day span in 2013, Jenkins killed four Omahans — Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Juan Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger — within three weeks of his release from a Nebraska prison. On May 30, 2017, a three-judge panel sentenced him to death. He is one of 12 members of Nebraska’s death row.

Jenkins has long claimed to be schizophrenic, asserting that his late father, who did not raise Jenkins, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Jenkins’ assertions that he was schizophrenic came under scrutiny each time he was asked to detail how he killed the Omahans. Confronted with the grisly details of the deaths, he would speak in gibberish and would claim he was channeling a serpent god.

A few Lincoln Regional Center experts — including two psychiatrists and one psychologist — concluded that he was faking his mental illness to either avoid responsibility for his actions or to curry favor. They noted he had expressed a desire to be committed to the Lincoln Regional Center and to receive disability payments upon his original release from prison.

However, the Regional Center’s conclusions were countered by prison and private psychiatrists who opined that Jenkins suffered from schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and, possibly, bipolar disorder.

Those dueling diagnoses — as well as his extensive time in solitary confinement — led to legislative sessions aimed at determining whether prison officials could have better treated Jenkins before releasing him.

Jenkins’ current diagnosis: He suffers from “unspecified schizophrenia spectrum/other psychotic disorder,” according to Riley. He is given psychotropic drugs daily — and his behavior has improved, Riley said.

“According to the records I’ve seen, it’s helping,” Riley said. “It prevents a lot of the self-mutilation we were seeing.”

Jenkins had made headlines by using sharp objects to carve into everything from his forehead to his penis. He also has used pens and makeshift needles to cover his face and body in tattoos. And he long has claimed that he worships a serpent god, Apophis.

Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon is expected to hold a hearing on Riley’s motion in the next couple of months. Riley said the operative part of the state’s competency law is the clause that calls for an execution to be delayed “until such disability is removed.” He questioned whether Jenkins ever will be relieved of his mental illness.

“That disability ain’t going away,” Riley said.

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