Convicted spree killer Nikko Jenkins is too mentally ill to be executed, his attorney says

Convicted spree killer Nikko Jenkins is too mentally ill to be executed, his attorney says
Nikko Jenkins, sentenced to death last year for killing four people over 10 days in 2013, is on antipsychotic medication. (KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALD)

Nikko Jenkins nearly killed himself.

A few months ago, the convicted spree killer — who fatally shot four Omahans over 10 days in 2013 — slashed his throat, apparently with a razor blade. He bled so much in that April cutting that prison guards believed that he might die.

The ordeal prompted several questions — not the least of which is how does Jenkins keep getting access to items to mutilate himself?

And this larger question: Is Jenkins too mentally ill to be put to death?

His lawyer, Tom Riley, argues that he is. The Douglas County public defender filed a motion last week with the Nebraska Supreme Court essentially asking the state’s high court to declare Jenkins mentally incompetent to be executed. Such a declaration would remove Jenkins from the waiting list for lethal injection, at least until Jenkins’ mental competency could be restored through medication.

In his court filing, Riley cited an evaluation that occurred after the April cutting. Three prison psychologists concluded that Jenkins was suffering from a psychotic disorder — and authorized the use of restraints and syringes to forcibly medicate him.

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Riley’s motion without comment. Riley said he thinks the court did so because Jenkins’ appeal of his conviction is still pending — and thus his death sentence hasn’t been affirmed yet.

Nonetheless, Riley said, he will renew his efforts to declare Jenkins incompetent if the court doesn’t overturn Jenkins’ conviction. Such an issue could follow Jenkins’ case for years as the state tries to execute him.

“I had a duty to bring this to the attention of the court,” Riley said. “And I will bring it again.”

The forced medication order is just the latest twist in a question that has long dogged Jenkins: Is he truly severely mentally ill — schizophrenic, bipolar and psychotic, as he claims — or is he faking it?

More than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists have evaluated Jenkins, 31, in his troubled life.

The results are mixed. Some have declared him psychotic — believing his claims that he hears voices, including the voice of a serpent god. Others have pointed out that Jenkins claims to hear these command voices at opportune times. For example, as he was admitting his guilt in the four murders, a judge asked Jenkins to give a play-by-play of how he killed Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz and Juan Uribe-Pena.

After starting to describe the crime, Jenkins stopped at the point that he had to admit that he pointed a shotgun mere feet from their temples and blew their heads open. He began speaking in gibberish, then in English, then back to gibberish again.

“There’s no question he has some sort of mental health issues,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who prosecuted Jenkins. “But those (voices) always seem to pop up conveniently when he’s in a situation that he needs them.”

“Certainly he’s one of the most manipulative individuals I’ve ever encountered.”

Jenkins was sentenced last year to death for the brutal 10-day spree in which the Omahan — who had just been released from prison — killed Cajiga-Ruiz and Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger.

After his sentencing, Jenkins arrived to prison and told a mental health professional of his plans. According to the therapist’s report: “Jenkins stated that he will attack someone and have new charges. And during that trial, he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity … (and obtain) video from the camera in his cell as evidence of his mental illness … he then will be transferred to the (Lincoln Regional Center).”

Jenkins has yet to make good on those plans. But his self-mutilating and outrageous behavior have been on full display.

According to a report of an April prison hearing over Jenkins’ recent behavior:

Jenkins has been frustrated with restrictions on his access to the prison canteen and has said he believes that staff is “trying to poison him with black mold or by pumping gas into his cell,” psychologist Brandon Hollister testified at the hearing.

Jenkins has continued to ingest his bodily fluids, has thrown bodily fluids on staff and has been seen “licking substances off the floor.”

The man with a backward 666 on his forehead also has continued to carve into his skin. He recently carved “Adolf Hitler” into his arm and proclaimed himself an “elite Nazi king.”

This year, Jenkins has cut himself severely twice, including one “cutting near his jugular where several staff thought that Mr. Jenkins may pass away.”

Hollister testified that Jenkins is suicidal and reports “hallucinations from demons that command him to harm him and sacrifice others.” A psychiatrist, Dr. Leandro Anit, testified that Jenkins is “gravely disabled” by his desire to harm himself.

Jenkins then joined the chorus at the hearing. He said he cut his neck because he wanted to die. As he often does, he proclaimed that he suffers from a mental illness, saying there is a “per ponderous” (preponderance) of  evidence.

“Mr. Jenkins reports that his hallucinations come from dead people, goddesses, demons and Adolf Hitler,” the report said.

One important note about that report: Kleine pointed out that Jenkins himself sent it to a reporter.

It’s as if he wants to prove to the world that he’s mentally ill — something most mentally ill people do not do, Kleine said.

“The biggest concern I have is whether it’s genuinely a mental health issue or just someone playing the system,” he said.

Riley balked at the notion that Jenkins is malingering — the psychiatric term for lying. The three psychologists’ conclusion after the April hearing is just the latest finding that Jenkins suffers from psychotic disorders, Riley said.

He also pointed to Jenkins ingesting his bodily fluids, mutilating himself and nearly killing himself.

“But, yeah, he’s faking all of this,” Riley said, sarcastically.

The antipsychotic medication has helped in recent weeks, Riley said. Jenkins’ train of thought and speech patterns are better, Riley said.

Marshall Lux, the state ombudsman whose office monitors prison matters, said he hopes the medication will help Jenkins return to his cell on death row — which Lux says is probably the best environment for Jenkins.

Jenkins was on death row for a few months before getting moved to a segregated unit after a dispute with his fellow death row members, Riley said. Officials did not detail the dispute, other than to call it a somewhat typical clash between prisoners.

State Corrections Director Scott Frakes has said prison officials are baffled as to how Jenkins, who is housed in isolation, continues to get hold of items to harm himself. Jenkins has been creative, using a radio antenna, a broken tile and even a guard’s badge to cut himself.

Lux said he doesn’t know either, although he said razor blades are prevalent throughout the prison because inmates use them to shave.

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