Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: September 23, 1992
Date of arrest: September 27, 1996
Date of birth: May 8, 1974
Victim profile: Kenyatta Bush, 17
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Douglas County, Nebraska, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on September 26, 1997. Overturned in 2000. Released on June 13, 2001

United States Court of Appeals
For the Eighth Circuit


opinion 03-3650


Jeremy Sheets, another of DPIC's "innocents," got off Death Row because the key witness against him couldn't testify. That was his best friend, Adam Barnett, who told the police that the two of them -- both white men -- had been angry about all the white women they knew who were dating black men. To get even, they kidnapped and raped a black high- school student. Barnett said that Sheets had then stabbed her to death. Barnett committed suicide in jail.

Sheets was sentenced to death on the basis of Barnett's taped confession (and Sheets's own testimony, which the jury found unbelievable). The Nebraska supreme court reversed his conviction because Sheets's lawyer had not been able to cross-examine the dead Barnett. Sheets walked.

The lead police investigator in the case called the result a "travesty," but it was probably the right legal call. What it wasn't was an "exoneration" of Sheets.


Jeremy Sheets

Nebraska Conviction: 1997, Charges Dismissed: 2001

Jeremy Sheets was released after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Nebraska Supreme Court decision overturning his conviction. Prosecutors then dropped the charges against him. (Associated Press, 6/14/01).

In September, 2000, the Nebraska high court unanimously ruled that a tape recording made by an alleged accomplice who committed suicide prior to the trial was the kind of statement deemed "highly suspect," "inherently unreliable," and hence inadmissible without the opportunity for Sheets to cross-examine. (Nebraska v Sheets, 618 N.W.2d 117 (2000)).

The statements (later recanted) were made by Adam Barnett, who was arrested for the 1992 rape and murder of the same victim as in Sheets' case. Barnett confessed to the crime and implicated Sheets.

In exchange for the taped statement, Barnett received a plea bargain in which he avoided a charge of first degree murder, did not have an additional weapons charge filed, and received a commitment for his safety while incarcerated. Barnett's statement was the key evidence used against Sheets at trial. (State v. Sheets, 618 N.W.2d 117 (Neb. 2000) and Associated Press, 6/12/01).


Nebraska: Convicted Killer Could Be Freed

By Elizabeth Stanton - New York Times

May 17, 2001

The United States Supreme Court declined to review the case of Jeremy Sheets, a white man sentenced to death for the 1992 racially motivated murder of a 17-year-old black girl, meaning he may go free. The Nebraska Supreme Court had ordered a new trial for Mr. Sheets, ruling that a recording of a co-defendant's statement implicating him should not have been played for jurors because the co-defendant had committed suicide and could not be cross-examined. But the prosecutor said the remaining evidence would not allow him to pursue a new trial. Mr. Sheets could be released in three weeks.


Jeremy Sheets

On June 13, 2001 Jeremy Sheets was released after prosecutors decided not to retry his case. Sheets had been sentenced to death for the September 23, 1992 kidnaping and murder of Kenyatta Bush.

The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned Sheets' 1997 conviction in 2000. It ruled that prosecutors should not have been allowed to use their key piece of evidence - a taped confession by Adam Barnett in which Barnett said that he and Sheets kidnapped, raped and killed Bush because she was black.

Barnett hanged himself in jail after giving the statement and before Sheets' trial started, so Sheets was unable to confront his accuser, the state court ruled. On Monday May 14, 2001 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the state court's decision.


Death-Row Inmate Is Set Free

By Scott Bauer

June 13, 2001

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Former death-row inmate Jeremy Sheets grinned as he was released from prison Tuesday, three years after he was ordered to die for the kidnapping, rape and killing of an Omaha girl.

Sheets, 27, walked out the front door of Nebraska State Penitentiary in a T-shirt and blue jeans and wearing a crew cut. Accompanied by prison guards, he said nothing as he quickly walked past reporters before he got into a minivan with Iowa plates that immediately drove away.

He became the first person released from Nebraska's death row in 88 years.

His release came after the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out a taped statement used to convict Sheets in the murder of 17-year-old honor student Kenyatta Bush.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to hear the state's appeal of the court decision. Without the taped statement, prosecutors said they did not have enough other evidence to proceed with another trial.

The taped statement implicating Sheets was made by co-defendant Adam Barnett shortly before he killed himself in jail.

Sheets was set free shortly after the Douglas County District Court signed off on his release Tuesday.

''It's painful to have to do this. I'm convinced we tried and convicted the appropriate person,'' said Douglas County Attorney Jim Jansen, who prosecuted the case against Sheets.

Sheets is the first person to be released from Nebraska's death row since 1913 when Jay O'Hearn was furloughed. Prison and court records do not indicate what happened in that case.

State prison officials did not know where Sheets went after his release. He previously had told news reporters that he planned to spend some time with his parents in Colorado.

During his three years on death row, Sheets appeared on billboards and in magazines worldwide as part of an advertising campaign against the death penalty by Italian fashion company Benetton.

Nebraska's high court said that allowing jurors to hear Barnett's taped statement violated Sheets' constitutional right to confront his accuser because defense lawyers could not cross-examine Barnett.

Barnett gave his statement to police as part of a plea agreement to escape a possible death sentence. In his statement, he said Sheets, who is white, attacked Bush because she was black.

The state's prosecutor had argued that Barnett's statement to police was given voluntarily and in the presence of his attorney. The prosecutor also said Barnett knew details of Bush's death that only the killers would know, including the condition and location of Bush's body and the exact cause of death.

Bush was kidnapped outside Omaha North High School on her way to class Sept. 23, 1992. Her throat was slashed and her body was dumped in a wooded area north of Omaha.

Barnett told police that he and Sheets, after a night of dropping acid, decided to rape a black woman to get revenge on black men who date white women. He said Sheets stabbed Bush after she lost consciousness.

In his 1997 trial, Sheets took the witness stand and denied that he hated blacks or had any involvement in the 1992 killing of Kenyatta Bush.

''I've never killed anybody,'' he said.

Sheets' release leaves 10 people on Nebraska's death row.


Jeremy Sheets



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