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Man sentenced to death for racially motivated murder

September 27, 1997

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ In a split decision, the man convicted of murder by the voice of a dead accomplice was sentenced to death Friday for killing an honors student because she was black.

Jeremy Sheets, 23, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Kenyatta Bush. The teen-ager was kidnapped outside North High School on her way to class Sept. 23, 1992. She was raped, stabbed and then dumped in a wooded area north of Omaha.

The sentence came in a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel and was denounced by Sheets’ lawyer.

``You can’t convict someone without proving they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Then how can you give the death sentence when one of the judges disagrees?″ defense lawyer J. William Gallup said. ``There is reasonable doubt.″

The key evidence against him was a taped statement by co-defendant Adam Barnett. Barnett, who gave the statement to police as part of a plea agreement, committed suicide in jail in November before the trial. Sheets was convicted in May.

Two jurors in the trial have said that the emotion and detail of Barnett’s statement compelled the jury to convict Sheets.

In the profanity-laced statement with racial slurs and occasional sobs, Barnett told police that he and Sheets _ both white _ decided to rape a black woman to get revenge over black men who date white women. He told investigators that Sheets stabbed Miss Bush.

``If it would have been a white girl, I probably would have stopped him,″ Barnett said in the statement played for jurors. ``I was thinking she deserved everything she got because she was black.″

In sentencing Sheets to die, Judge James Buckley and Judge Ronald Olberding cited the especially heinous and cruel nature of the crime and the fact that the murder was committed to cover up the other crimes and the killer’s identity. They noted that the victim was chosen because of her race.

Judge Donald Rowlands II dissented, claiming Sheets deserved life in prison. He agreed that the murder apparently was committed to conceal other crimes but said because Miss Bush was unconscious when she died, no extreme suffering was inflicted.

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