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2ND-DEGREE APPEAL GETS 1ST-DEGREE CONVICTION

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Not every appeal of a second-degree murder conviction in Nebraska has ended with an inmate's release.

Sydney Thieszen was 14 in September 1987 when he hit his 12-year-old sister, Sacha, in the back of the head with a wooden closet rod, shot her in the head from a foot away with a .22-caliber pistol, placed her in an empty bathtub and, from only inches away, shot her twice more, in the forehead and chest.Thieszen was first charged with first-degree murder. But in a 1988 plea bargain, offered because of his youth and to spare the family a trial, the boy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, with the chance of parole.

Now 23, Thieszen appealed his conviction on grounds of 1994 state Supreme Court rulings that found fault with the wording of charges and jury instructions because they did not mention "malice."

When Thieszen won a retrial, York County Attorney Charles Campbell reinstated the harsher first-degree murder charges.

At his trial this spring, Thieszen testified that he'd struck Sacha when she threatened to tell police he was planning to run away. He said he panicked when he saw blood and then shot her.

The prosecution argued that Thieszen killed his sister when she resisted his sexual advances and then sexually fondled her lifeless body.

A jury found Thieszen guilty May 18. This month, he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. At sentencing, York County District Judge Robert Steinke called the crime "particularly violent, brutal and completely senseless."

"Sometimes," he said to Thieszen, "you should let sleeping dogs lie."