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Neb. Court Reverses Murder Ruling

August 14, 1998

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday said prosecutors do not have to prove malice in second-degree murder cases, reversing a 1994 ruling that led to the release of at least 15 convicted killers.

The decision means the state no longer has to prove people suspected of second-degree murder acted with a wreckless disregard of human life.

Prosecutors did not immediately know how the decision would effect those cases where suspects were cleared under the old malice standard.

In 1977, the Nebraska Legislature changed the definition of second-degree murder by removing ``malice″ as one of the elements prosecutors had to prove. The state Supreme Court restored the standard in the unanimous 1994 decision, saying the crime otherwise could not be distinguished from the lesser offense of manslaughter.

More than 130 cases were returned for retrials. Complete releases were granted in at least 15 cases, while many others have been mired in court proceedings.

``It threw every prosecutor in the state for a loop,″ said Dakota County Attorney Robert Finney. ``The last thing a prosecutor wants to do is try the same case twice.″

In reversing itself Friday, the court held 5-2 that it had to follow the Legislature’s definition of second-degree murder _ ``the causation of death intentionally but without premeditation.″

Since the 1994 ruling, four justices have been replaced on the court by new appointees.

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