Panel to decide if Tecumseh inmate who killed cellmate qualifies for death penalty

Panel to decide if Tecumseh inmate who killed cellmate qualifies for death penalty
Patrick Schroeder arrives for a hearing before Judge Steven Timm at the Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh on May 3, 2017. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Jan. 23-24 has been set for a court proceeding to determine whether an inmate who killed his cellmate at the Tecumseh State Prison qualifies for the death penalty.

Patrick Schroeder, who is already serving life in prison for a 2006 slaying, pleaded guilty in July to strangling his 22-year-old cellmate with a towel April 15.

Schroeder, 40, testified in July that the cellmate, Terry Berry, was obnoxious and too talkative and had pushed him to his “threshold.”

Johnson County District Judge Vicky Johnson scheduled two days, Jan. 23 and 24, to hear arguments on whether “aggravating circumstances” exist to warrant the death sentence for Schroeder.

In death penalty cases, aggravating circumstances, such as the heinous nature of a murder, must be proved and must outweigh so-called mitigating factors, such as a young age or lack of criminal past, to warrant the death penalty.

Prosecutors have said that Schroeder’s previous murder conviction and a substantial history of serious assaultive or terrorizing criminal activity are two aggravating factors they intend to prove.

Defense attorneys for Schroeder will also get to present evidence on mitigating factors that would make a life sentence more appropriate.

Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte and Buffalo County District Judge John Marsh have been appointed to serve on a panel with Johnson to decide Schroeder’s sentence.