Gerald Jump's killer lives less than a mile from the cemetery where Jump's body is buried.
"It's horrible," says Jump's widow. "It's horrible for the kids."Joseph Moniz, 73, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1985 stabbing. He would still be behind bars except for a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that so far has permitted Moniz and 14 other men convicted of second-degree murder to walk free.
At the core of the matter is the definition of second-degree murder in Nebraska's criminal codes. In 1979, the Legislature revised it from murder committed "purposely and maliciously, but without deliberation and premeditation" to murder committed "intentionally but without premeditation."
The intent was to distinguish the charge from first-degree murder and make it easier to win convictions, said Roland Luedtke, then chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
In January 1994, the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors in second-degree murder cases must prove defendants exhibited "malice" and judges must include that word in jury instructions. Without proving malice, the court said, the law would be too broad, and police or executioners who kill in the line of duty could be charged with second-degree murder.
In several later cases, three judges dissented from the original holding. In one of them, the three dissenters bluntly called the four-judge majority's position "absurd," "nonsensical" and judicial "jabberwocky."
Luedtke agreed, asserting that malice is obviously implied if a killing is intentional.
The court ruling, and a subsequent clarification that said "malice" must also appear in second-degree charges, opened the door to potential appeals of 130 convictions decided since the code change in 1979. So far, 53 inmates have appealed; 41 were resentenced, including the 15 who were freed and 12 cases are pending.
The Legislature cannot reverse the court decision, said John Lindsay, current chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "We can say we really meant it," Lindsay said, "but they'll just respond, `We really meant it, too."'
Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg failed to gain an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has urged prosecutors to treat appeals harshly and, when possible, to file new first-degree murder charges.
The prime drawback to such a course is that many cases date back 10 years or more, making it difficult to reassemble witnesses and evidence. Plea bargains result, and murderers go free if they've already served their time under reduced charges.
Joseph B. Eggers, 51, convicted of killing a 3-year-old girl in 1984, walked out of prison last July after pleading guilty to manslaughter. He had served 10 years of a life term for second-degree murder, surpassing by several months the maximum sentence for manslaughter under Nebraska's good behavior laws.
Eggers had claimed Rebecca Sue Rodriguez drowned in a bathtub, but an autopsy showed she died of brain damage from a beating or shaking, Lincoln County Attorney Kent Turnbull said.
Turnbull said he didn't pursue new second-degree murder charges in part because witnesses could not be found.
"We were put in a difficult position," Turnbull said. "I thought it was important that we have a conviction on the record."
State Parole Board Chairman Ron Bartee worries about releasing people like Eggers without benefit of parole or work-release programs.
"You have someone locked up and then you turn them loose? You almost anticipate that something will happen," he said. "If something rubs you the wrong way in the institution, you defend yourself."
Bartee said he was less concerned about Moniz because he suffers from heart trouble and other ailments.
Moniz and Jump were good friends, Moniz told The Associated Press. They'd been drinking at a bar in Walthill, in northeastern Nebraska, in 1985 when Jump, then 31, started boasting he could "whip" Moniz.
Moniz said he left the bar to avoid a fight. When he returned for another beer, however, Jump attacked him, Moniz said, and he defended himself with a knife.
A judge found Moniz guilty of second-degree murder.
In November 1994, Moniz's first bid for freedom was unanimously rejected by the state Parole Board. Shortly afterward, he learned of the Supreme Court ruling and filed an appeal, then pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Defending the deal, Thurston County Attorney Matthew Samuelson said he considered Moniz's health, time served and the cost of a retrial.
Moniz, a truck driver and part-time farmer and electrician before his conviction, was freed in December. He lives on public assistance in a trailer home in Walthill.
He feels the horror of Jump's death every day, Moniz says.
"I don't sleep well," Moniz said. "I get flashbacks. I wish it hadn't happened."
Jump Kampa, who is remarried and lives with the younger two of her four children just south of Walthill, says her first husband's killer should be in prison.
At least, she said, he should not have been allowed back into Thurston County.
"I think it's wrong. They changed everybody's life when they let Joe out," Jump Kampa said.