LINCOLN — A prison inmate charged with killing his cellmate deserves the death penalty because he had committed a prior murder and has a history of violence, Johnson County Attorney Rick Smith says in a new court filing.
Smith and prosecutors with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office had previously announced that they would seek the death penalty against Patrick Schroeder, who is accused of choking Terry Berry Jr. to death on April 15 inside their cell at the Tecumseh State Prison.
By law, the state must declare which aggravating circumstances exist that warrant a death penalty in a first-degree murder case.
On Friday, Smith filed a court document stating that he intends to prove that two aggravating circumstances existed in the crime: Schroeder had previously committed a murder (he’s serving a life sentence for the 2006 murder of a Pawnee County farmer); and he has a substantial history of serious assaultive or terrorizing criminal activity.
If Schroeder, 39, is found guilty of first-degree murder in Berry’s death, a second sentencing trial would be held to weigh whether he deserves the death penalty. Part of the process involves weighing the alleged aggravating circumstances against any mitigating circumstances that might have existed.
Schroeder is next scheduled to appear in Johnson County District Court on June 20.