The two mothers, bonded by the brutality inflicted on their children, sat one in front of the other in the back two rows of the Douglas County courtroom.
They listened and waited for the words that would provide justice, however late, however unfulfilling, and would end four years of a court case dominated by the antics of the defendant, Nikko Jenkins.
Teri Roberts — the mother of murder victim Andrea Kruger — gazed quietly ahead, sitting stoically between her husband and son.
Velita Glasgow — the mother of murder victim Curtis Bradford — swayed slightly in her chair, as if listening to a church choir.
Then Judge Peter Bataillon announced the not-so-foregone conclusion of the three-judge panel deciding whether Nikko Jenkins would receive the death penalty.
“The defendant’s commission of these four murders over a 10-day period is one of the worst killing sprees in the history of this state,” Bataillon said Tuesday, reading from the order signed by himself, Judge Mark Johnson of Madison and Terri Harder of the Kearney area. “This panel finds that the aggravating circumstances, as determined to exist, justify the imposition of a sentence of death for each murder.”
Bataillon then rattled off the sentences, in order.
For the Aug. 11, 2013, execution-style shooting of Juan Uribe-Pena at Spring Lake Park in South Omaha:
For the Aug. 11, 2013, execution-style shooting of Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, also at Spring Lake Park:
For the Aug. 19, 2013, execution-style shooting of Curtis Bradford near 18th and Clark Streets:
For the Aug. 21, 2013, execution-style shooting of Andrea Kruger near 168th and Fort Streets:
Sentences pronounced, Glasgow stood up, bent over a courtroom pew and pressed her face against Teri Roberts. The two embraced.
Glasgow wiped away tears. Outside court, she said this:
“I’m tired, I’m weary and I’m ready to go home. Never wanna see this place again, never have to see (Jenkins) again.”
And this: “It’s time for me to heal, this has been too long. Four years is a long time. I’m ready to close this chapter.”
And this: “I had nothing to say to him today. ... I don’t want to hear his name.”
In that sense, the case came full circle Tuesday.
When he initially appeared in court nearly four years ago, Jenkins was subdued and seemingly sorrowful. He told court officials that he wanted to apologize to Kruger’s family and husband — and repeatedly turned around, squinting as he strained to find any family members in the gallery.
Eventually, whatever contrition he had — whatever feeling that was — washed away. Over the past four years, legal observers referred to the anything-but-routine hearings as “The Nikko Show.” Jenkins, 30, acted as his own attorney — and acted as if a serpent god was talking through him. He received delays as he repeatedly sliced his penis and his face — once by using the pin attached to a prison guard’s badge. He carved Satan — and tried to etch 666 in his forehead. However, he was looking in the mirror so the numbers came out backward.
He once talked during a courtroom break about Andrea Kruger’s wounds — a diatribe so disgusting that deputies removed Jenkins from the courtroom.
Then came Tuesday. Jenkins sat sullen and stone-faced, lips pursed. Defiant, he didn’t speak until his attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, motioned to him to sign a court document to appoint an attorney.
“I ain’t signing anything,” Jenkins scoffed. “They ain’t handling my appeal.”
It was a moot point, anyway, Riley noted to the judges. An appeal is automatic; Jenkins can decide later who represents him.
And that was it. Jenkins shuffled out in his prison-issued khakis and leg irons. He will become the 11th member of Nebraska’s death row, virtually the only place he hasn’t been in his prison life.
Noticeably absent from Tuesday’s proceedings: Kruger’s widower, Michael-Ryan Kruger.
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Kruger told The World-Herald that he decided to stop going to hearings a few years ago, about the time Jenkins started representing himself.
“I knew right then — I’m not coming back to watch this stuff,” Kruger said. “I just didn’t want to be a witness to any of that craziness, any kind of circus.
“Everybody moves on in their own way. But my thinking was, he’s already got enough of my family’s time. He’s not getting another 10 minutes.”
Tuesday, Kruger said, he spent a few minutes following the Twitter feed of a World-Herald reporter. Soon, the reporter tweeted out the punishment: death.
Kruger said he started to sweat a little — “actually sweat.” Perhaps it’s because he’s torn about the outcome. While Jenkins deserves the maximum punishment, Kruger said, he worries about the impact the continual appeals will have on Andrea’s three children.
The couple’s children already have spent nearly four years without their mom — son Jadyn is now 16, daughter Ava is 7 and daughter Hartley, who was in diapers when her mom died, is 5.
Now, Kruger wonders, will their mother’s name and photo pop up next to Jenkins’ mug every time he appeals?
“I don’t think I can prepare them for that — how do you?” he said. “And when? Do you prepare them for 10, 15, 20 years down the road? There’s no quick and easy ending to this.
“At the same time, I know this: They have a lot of people who love them and support them. I think they’re strong enough. I think they’ll be fine.”
In similar ways, all of the victims’ families are searching for peace, said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine. Relatives of Cajiga-Ruiz and Uribe-Pena met with prosecutors early on but quickly indicated that they didn’t want to watch every twist and turn. They also weren’t present Tuesday.
On the other hand, Bradford’s mother and Kruger’s mother and father, Kent, have attended most of Jenkins’ hearings.
Glasgow said she and Teri Roberts developed a bond, even as they hail from opposite ends of the metro area. Roberts is from Valley; Glasgow from east Omaha.
Glasgow called Kruger’s relatives “beautiful, caring people,” and said she hopes to stay in touch with the family.
“I think we bonded as mothers,” she said. “It’s a hell of a thing that we had to meet like this.”
Authorities have noted how the case cut across a cross-section of Omaha culturally and geographically — from Uribe-Pena’s and Cajiga-Ruiz’s deaths in South Omaha to Curtis Bradford’s death in north Omaha to Kruger’s death in west Omaha.
Their only connection: They, by chance, intersected with Jenkins in the less than four weeks he was out of prison — the only month of freedom Jenkins had in his adult life.
In that time, Jenkins:
» Lured Uribe-Pena, 26, and Cajiga-Ruiz, 29, to the park on the pretense that the two men would party with Jenkins’ sister and cousin. He used a 12-gauge shotgun to blast holes in both men’s heads.
» Trapped Curtis Bradford by suggesting that Bradford, Jenkins and Jenkins’ sister Erica commit a robbery. The brother-sister duo both shot Bradford in the back of the head.
» Planned to carjack someone in west Omaha so they could commit further robberies. He and family members pulled a car in front of Kruger to block her path at 168th and Fort Streets. Jenkins pulled her out of her SUV and shot her four times in the head.
“You look at the brutality of each murder,” Kleine said. “The innocence of the victims. The lack of any history or beef with Jenkins.
“There’s nothing in any of the evidence that indicates these people had any inkling of what was about to happen to them. There was nothing that pointed to a reason to do this, other than the evil of Nikko Jenkins.”
A life sentence would have undermined the validity of the state’s death penalty, Kleine said.
“If this person didn’t get the death penalty for killing four people over 10 days, who would?” he asked.
In sentencing Jenkins to death, the panel rejected the defense’s argument that Jenkins suffered from a mental illness so extreme that it clouded his judgment. The judges sided with state psychiatrists who are convinced that Jenkins is feigning mental illness.
Jenkins’ primary personality defect, according to the judges? Narcissism — not some psychotic disorder that commanded him to kill.
“Each one of these murders was a deliberate and planned act,” Bataillon noted. “The victims were pre-selected and the murders were purposeful.”
For his part, Michael-Ryan Kruger said he hasn’t found any purpose in his wife’s death. The couple’s two daughters now have lived longer without their mom than they did with her.
So, Kruger said, he tries to keep Andrea’s memory alive by highlighting their personality quirks, the ones that mimic their mom.
The kids are resilient, he said. The girls are into gymnastics and soccer. Son Jadyn, who will be a senior at Northwest High School next year, plans to join the Marines en route to a career in law enforcement. A career that Kruger believes is in part inspired by what happened to his mother.
Kruger said he continues to try to power on.
“Sometimes — like on days like today — you get stopped in your tracks,” Kruger said. “You hear people say things happen for a reason — I don’t know how much I believe that. It’s more a message of, we only have a little bit of time. The world is not long for many of us. You have to make an impact while you can.”
World-Herald staff writer Alia Conley contributed to this report.