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Half-dozen people charged in alleged scheme to buy juror’s not-guilty plea in double-murder case

May 11, 2018 GMT

A half-dozen people were involved in the half-baked scheme to bribe a juror who would help decide the fate of a double-murder defendant, Douglas County prosecutors say.

The plan was to pay a juror a down payment of $5,000 and another $5,000 upon delivery of a not-guilty verdict, said prosecutor Mike Jensen, a deputy Douglas County attorney.

But the six people accused in the alleged scheme — including the defendant, Marcus Short, 28 — didn’t get very far. And once the plot started to unravel, two of those involved tried to hide the scheme.

“Get rid of the bone,” one message urged, according to prosecutors.

Bone? It was a not-very-creative code word for “phone,” prosecutors say.

Thursday, a judge set bail at 10 percent of $50,000 for Davaughn Perkins, a friend of Short’s and one of the six people accused in the scheme. The other five are expected to begin making their first court appearances Friday.

According to prosecutors’ accounts and an exclusive World-Herald interview with the 19-year-old juror who was targeted:

This past weekend, the juror saw a strange friend request on Facebook — from Perkins.

Upon receiving the request, the juror clicked on Perkins’ profile — and saw a photo of Perkins and Short standing side by side.

The juror declined to accept Perkins as a Facebook friend. When he reported for jury duty Monday, he told his fellow jurors of the request.

That sparked a mistrial in Short’s case — and an Omaha police investigation. Authorities allege that Short had the names and addresses of three jurors, including the 19-year-old. Police still are trying to determine whether any attempts were made to contact the other two jurors.

In all, six people have been arrested for jury tampering and-or conspiracy to tamper with a juror:

• Short, the Omaha gang member charged in the August 2015 slayings of Deprecia Neelon and Garion Johnson. In addition to the tampering charges, Short will face charges of tampering with physical evidence and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.

• Laeshon Owen, 19. Owen, Short’s cellmate, also will be charged with tampering with physical evidence and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.

• Adrian Ixta, 30, an inmate who is in the same unit as Short and who is awaiting sentencing for the murder of Billy Walker.

• Perkins, 28. Perkins had sat in the back of the courtroom through several pretrial hearings and the first few days of trial. He is on federal probation for intent to distribute crack cocaine.

• Jessenia Ixta. Adrian Ixta had contacted Jessenia, his sister, to participate in the scheme, prosecutors say.

• Kevin Johnson, 32. Johnson is Short’s friend. On his phone were incriminating messages that Short wanted destroyed, prosecutors say.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine bristled at the scheme, calling it the most brazen attempt he has seen in 40 years of practicing law. He also called on legislators to increase the punishment for jury tampering. The maximum sentence currently is two years in prison.

Investigators still are trying to figure out how those involved got the addresses of the three jurors. Prospective jurors’ addresses are listed on a roster that is handed out to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. However, those jury rosters are seized and sealed after jury selection. And, unlike some defendants, Short wasn’t taking notes during jury selection.

Douglas County District Court Clerk John Friend said his office is committed to protecting jurors and their home information. When he took office 12 years ago, Friend discovered a state law that requires him to seal jury rosters after jury selection — and Friend has done so.

In an interview after the case was dismissed, the 19-year-old juror said he couldn’t believe his fortune — or misfortune.

“Ten thousand dollars? No way,” the juror said. “It’s murder. There’s no amount of money I would take.”