An Omaha man who killed multiple people to honor an ancient Egyptian god has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his death sentence.
Nikko Jenkins, a 33-year-old diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, is one of 12 men on Nebraska’s death row. He blamed the State for letting him out of prison six years ago without adequate mental health counseling. Within three weeks of his release, Jenkins had killed four people.
His case has received widespread attention. Since his 2013 murder convictions, Jenkins has sued the State for $24.5 million, made multiple suicide attempts, and is now engaged to be married to a Texas woman.
Severely mentally ill since the age of eight, Nikko Jenkins was imprisoned in Nebraska for armed robbery at age seventeen. He was held in solitary confinement for nearly five years—including for more than two years immediately preceding his release. He exhibited severe mental illness and self-mutilation in solitary confinement, and repeatedly sought assistance, including requests that he be civilly committed as a danger to others rather than released. The State ignored his pleas, and released him directly from solitary confinement to the community, without any assistance or transition. Within three weeks of release, he killed four people. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death, under a Nebraska law that authorizes a panel of judges, rather than a jury, to make factual findings necessary to impose a sentence of death.
No. 19-514, Jenkins v. Nebraska, Pet. at i.
Lawyers from the ACLU argued that the State violated Jenkins’ constitutional rights by disregarding the effects of prolonged solitary confinement and by allowing judges—rather than a jury—to make the factual findings necessary to impose a death sentence.
Jenkins is one of less than one hundred defendants condemned to death by a judge, rather than a jury. See Michael L. Radelet and G. Ben Cohen, The Decline of the Judicial Override, 15 Ann. Rev. L. Soc. Sci. 539 (2019). “Nebraska is a true outlier. Of the fifty-two jurisdictions in the country (fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government), only four jurisdictions even sometimes permit a judge rather [than] the jury to impose a death sentence….” Brief of Amici Curiae The Promise of Justice Initiative, at 3.
The National Disability Rights Network, as amicus, argues that: “By failing to give meaningful consideration to the impact of Jenkins’ time in solitary confinement as sentencing mitigation, the Nebraska courts violated this Court’s repeated directive that the Eighth Amendment requires consideration of ‘any aspect of defendant’s character . . . that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence of less than death.’” Brief of Amici Curiae The National Disability Rights Network, at 4.
In a 14-page brief in opposition, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office argues that the proceedings were heavily fact bound and standing issues make the case a poor vehicle for certiorari review. In particular, as noted by the Nebraska Supreme Court, “Jenkins waived a jury and expressly stated that he would ‘rather have the judges’ for sentencing.” (Pet. App. 49a).
More than 2,600 people sit on death row nationwide.
The petition has been distributed for conference February 21st. Death penalty cases have long been among the most difficult and divisive for the Supreme Court.