Written on July 20, 2011 – 10:35 pm | by Cameron Hussey
LINCOLN Former Nebraska football player Thunder Collins was provided another chance Friday to show whether he was unfairly convicted of first-degree murder in a drug-related slaying in Omaha in 2008.But a local prosecutor said hes confident that Collins murder conviction will stand.Collins, now 31, was sentenced to life in prison plus 90 years for first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and assault and gun possession charges.On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected five arguments raised by Collins in his appeal, but agreed with one.The court ruled that Collins deserves a new court hearing in Douglas County to determine if his verdict was prejudiced by allowing the jury to go home for the weekend during its deliberations.Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said hes confident that a further hearing will show that Collins attorney, Steve Lefler, acquiesced to the jury separating over the weekend. Certainly, Kleine said, Collins didnt object to the jurors going home, nor did he request that the jury be sequestered by housing them together over the weekend at a motel.And Kleine said theres no evidence that anyone did anything to taint the jurors over the weekend. After the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts, Collins complained that the jurors werent sequestered. In a press conference from jail, Collins said there was a good possibility that California gang member friends of victims Tim Thomas and Marshall Turner got to the jury deciding his fate. Kleine called that absurd. Theres no indication whatsoever that the jury was prejudiced in any respect by separating, Kleine said. Lefler could not be reached for comment. Assistants at his law office said he was out of town and would not return until next week.The Collins case was a sensational one, involving a one-time darling of the gridiron with a flashy name who came from California and shouted Im the victim after he was found guilty of murder.He was a junior college All-American, but never lived up to his hype at Nebraska. His best year was 2001, when he rushed for 647 yards and five touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 189 yards.Collins had several brushes with the law prior to his arrest in the 2008 incident, which involved a delivery of crack cocaine from California and a robbery attempt that erupted into gunfire.
One of the victims, Turner, identified Collins as the gunman who executed Thomas in a north-central Omaha garage. And fingerprints and DNA tests put Collins in the garage where Thomas was killed. At the end of his trial, the jury was presented the case on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009. It was allowed by the trial judge, District Judge Gary Randall, to go home for the weekend. When it returned on Monday, the jury rendered its guilty verdicts.In his appeal, Collins maintained that he was not given the opportunity to agree or consent to allowing the jury to separate for the weekend.Citing past court rulings, Collins said that allowing the jury to go home created a presumption that the jurys verdict was prejudiced. For example, jurors might have read media accounts of the trial, or met and discussed the case, though there was no evidence submitted of that.The Supreme Court ruled that the judge should have obtained express agreement or consent from Collins before allowing the jury to go home.The court ordered a new hearing at which prosecutors will be allowed to rebut the presumption that the jurys verdict might have been tainted, and show that there was no harm to Collins.Under state law, juries must be kept together in some convenient place until they render a verdict or are discharged by the judge.But that right can be waived, and the Supreme Court, in its opinion, spent several paragraphs discussing whether a defendant waives his right to object to separating the jury if he doesnt speak up during the trial.In the end, the court overturned its previous rulings, deciding that a defendant cannot raise such an issue during an appeal if he didnt raise it during the trial.But the court said its change of heart will affect only future cases and would not apply to the Collins case.There was no word on when the court hearing would be held.Collins remains incarcerated at a state prison in Tecumseh.Prosecutors generally loathe second trials. And re-trying Collins wouldnt be a cakewalk. One witness has since died in jail. And one of Collins co-conspirators, who received a break on his sentence for testifying against Collins, would be under no obligation to take the stand again.
- Attorney for Michael Jackson’s doctor thinks jury should be sequestered
- India Gang-Rape Trial Begins
- NY judge dismisses charges against Foxy Brown
- N.P. killer slain in prison
- 90 Neb. post offices to close?