Prosecutors: Inmates used code words in thinly veiled attempt to bribe juror in murder trial

The inmates and their associates allegedly used code words in their attempt to bribe a juror and help free murder defendant Marcus Short.

“Bone” meant phone. As in: “get rid of the bone.”

“Attorney” meant juror. As in: You need to pay that “attorney” — $5,000 up front, $5,000 upon delivery of a not guilty verdict.

And then there was that time they spoke in Spanish.

Convicted killer Adrian Ixta was on a jailhouse phone call with his sister, relaying juror names and addresses in Spanish. Only problem: His sister didn’t speak Spanish very well.

Frustrated, she told him she couldn’t understand what he was saying. So, prosecutors say, Ixta simply repeated the jurors’ names and addresses in English.

Most of the damning information is recorded on jailhouse tapes or cellphone messages, according to testimony presented Thursday.

After a preliminary hearing, Douglas County District Judge Horacio Wheelock ordered Short, DeVaughn Perkins and Laeshon Owen to stand trial on charges of jury and evidence tampering and conspiracy. Two others — Jessenia Ixta and Kevin Johnson — waived their preliminary hearings and were bound over. Adrian Ixta’s preliminary hearing is later this month.

Thursday was a reunion of sorts for those involved.

Two of the defendants — Short and Perkins — were back in the same courtroom where the half-baked idea allegedly began.

Perkins had been a spectator in the back of Wheelock’s courtroom at the start of Short’s trial on charges that he helped kill Deprecia Neelon and Garion Johnson in August 2015.

According to testimony from Omaha police homicide detective Ryan Hinsley:

As part of the weeklong jury selection for Short’s trial, the court clerk’s office supplied copies of the juror roster to the judge, prosecutors and defense team.

Owen Thorsen, a jury administrator in Clerk John Friend’s office, told police he saw Short eyeballing the jury roster — and sizing up the potential jurors. Videotape of Short just after jury selection on Friday, May 4, shows a folded up piece of paper in Short’s hand as his legs are cuffed.

Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley said he was sure Short never had a pen during jury selection. And he questioned whether the white object in Short’s hand could have been a tissue.

Whether by memory or notes, Short ended up with the names and addresses of three of the 15 jury members — 12 jurors and 3 alternates, prosecutors said. (Friend said officials will take steps to further limit access to jury rosters from now on.)

Armed with juror information, Hinsley said, Short got to work the weekend before prosecutors starting presenting evidence against him.

Short and Ixta — a convicted murderer who was in the same jail unit as Short — can be seen on jail videotape near the phone bank. Ixta was on the phone with someone. Short was behind him, holding a legal pad with writing on it.

On the other end of those phone calls: Ixta’s sister and Perkins.

Both were given the names and addresses of a 19-year-old juror and two middle-aged female jurors.

Short described the 19-year-old man — a student studying industrial technology at Iowa Western Community College — as “an up-and-comer.”

Short contacted a friend, Kevin Johnson, an inmate who was on a weekend furlough from the Omaha Correctional Center.

He told Johnson about the “attorneys” he liked.

“The more ‘attorneys’ you have, the better the outcome,” Short said, according to Hinsley.

The weekend before testimony began in Short’s trial, Perkins reached out to the 19-year-old. He sent him a Facebook friend request and a direct message that said: “I have a friend that needs an attorney.”

The juror looked at Perkins’ Facebook page and found a photo of Perkins and Short, side by side.

He reported to court Monday and told his fellow jurors and court staff about the strange contact. No other jurors were contacted — but Judge Wheelock declared a mistrial and reset Short’s double-murder trial for next year.

After the juror’s report, Hinsley and homicide detectives confronted Perkins, who had been sitting in the back of the courtroom.

Once the gig was up, an attempted cover-up began, prosecutors allege.

Authorities said that Owen, acting on Short’s behalf, placed a phone call to Johnson. (Owen’s attorney argued that prosecutors have no evidence that it was Owen’s voice.)

“Homey just got charged,” the caller said. “You’ve got to get rid of your bone.”

Johnson tried to delete the texts on his phone — but police said they were able to recover them.

When he returned to prison from his furlough, officials found the phone in a discreet location: under his scrotum.

Johnson’s nickname?

“Bonkers,” Hinsley said.

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