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Former death row inmate on probation

Former death row inmate on probation

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OMAHA - Jeremy Sheets gets no jail time for threatening a teenage girl in Colorado.

Jeremy Sheets has dodged another bullet.

The former Omahan, who was released from Nebraska's death row after a high court overturned his conviction in the murder of Kenyatta Bush, now has avoided jail time for threatening a teenage girl in suburban Denver.

Sheets, 36, was sentenced last week in a Colorado courtroom to three years of probation and was ordered to perform 75 hours of community service for menacing the teenager in a grocery store parking lot. The incident occurred just a few miles from his home.

After a trial this summer, a jury found Sheets guilty of misdemeanor menacing, as opposed to the felony charge, for the December 2008 incident. Had he been convicted of felony menacing, Sheets would have faced up to four years in prison.

Neither prosecutors nor Sheets' public defender returned calls seeking comment.

Though Sheets' former attorney described it as a case of road rage, others said the case bore some resemblance to the allegations against Sheets in the Bush slaying.

Both times, a teenage girl was confronted in a parking lot by a stranger who emerged from a silver car with a knife drawn. Both times, Sheets was arrested.

In the Kenyatta Bush case, Sheets' co-defendant, Adam Barnett, told investigators that he and Sheets targeted Bush, whom they did not know, because she was black.

On Sept. 23, 1992, Barnett said, he and Sheets abducted the girl from outside Omaha North High School at knife point and forced her into Sheets' silver 1974 Camaro.

Barnett said Sheets beat and raped Bush before stabbing her and dumping her body. Barnett alternately stood by and retracted that statement before hanging himself in jail.

Despite Barnett's death, a judge allowed prosecutors to present Barnett's taped confession at Sheets' trial in May 1997. A jury convicted Sheets, and a three-judge panel sentenced him to death.

Sheets denied any involvement in the Bush killing and appealed his conviction.

In June 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The high court ruled that because Barnett killed himself, Sheets had been denied his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

Since his release, Sheets has had a handful of arrests in Colorado on suspicion of misdemeanors such as marijuana possession, drunken driving and possessing a firearm.

The latest case involved the most serious allegations. A 16-year-old Hispanic girl was in the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store in Highlands Ranch, an unincorporated area near Denver.

The girl said a man got out of a silver car and walked toward her with a knife in his right hand. The girl said he then wagged the knife at her and called her an expletive.

"You talking (expletive) about me?" the man said, according to the girl. "I am going to stab you."

The girl said she backed away as the Gerber-style hunting knife came within inches of her face.

The man then ran to the car and drove out of the parking lot, she said. She later identified Sheets as the aggressor.

A jury ruled that Sheets' behavior amounted to a misdemeanor. Judge Richard Caschette imposed the probation term.

J. William Gallup, Sheets' attorney in the Bush case, said Monday that he hopes Sheets avoids trouble from now on.

When it comes to the Bush case, Gallup said, Sheets has talked about trying to make a claim against the state under a recently passed law that provides compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Gallup said he told Sheets to hold off on any such requests until the Colorado case was resolved. Sheets previously has sued prosecutors and Omaha police, but those lawsuits have been thrown out.

Gallup said he was "glad to hear the (Colorado case) came out as a misdemeanor" — and that the judge didn't take Sheets' past out on him.

"There's always that lingering fear," Gallup said. "You worry that a judge will think, 'You didn't get what you deserved in Nebraska, so let's see what we can do here.'"

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