Ruling adds to Omaha man’s life sentence for strangling family friend

March 11, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court ordered a new sentence Friday that adds years to a life term already being served by an Omaha man who strangled a close friend in 2015.

The ruling makes it more certain that 30-year-old Matthew Kidder will die in prison for the murder of Jessica Nelson. Not only did he kill a 28-year-old mother who considered him a friend, he betrayed an entire family that had treated him as one of their own.

The Supreme Court ruled the sentencing judge improperly ordered Kidder to serve a term of 20 years for use of a weapon on top of his life sentence for first-degree murder. The weapon-related sentence was too low, the court said.

Douglas County District Judge Kimberly Miller Pankonin initially sentenced Kidder to 50 years for using a cellphone charging cord to strangle Nelson. But after a discussion with Kidder’s lawyer, the judge modified the sentence to 20 years, saying she believed 50 years was outside the penalty range for the offense.

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The Supreme Court said it has consistently ruled that once a judge pronounces a valid sentence, it can’t be modified. Because the weapons charge carried a maximum penalty of 50 years, the high court said the initial sentence was within the allowable range and must stand.

The high court also rejected Kidder’s argument that the trial judge improperly allowed testimony about violent pornography videos and Internet porn searches found on Kidder’s laptop. One of the videos, titled “Psycho-Thrillers,” depicted the kidnapping of a woman who was raped at gunpoint, strangled with a belt and raped again after she died.

The Supreme Court said it didn’t need to reach a conclusion about whether Kidder’s pornography should have been barred because other evidence overwhelmingly supported a guilty verdict.

The evidence included DNA collected from the victim’s fingernails that did not exclude Kidder as a contributor, credible incriminating statements he made to a cellmate and analysis of cellphone tower data that showed Kidder’s phone was near the victim’s home at the time of the killing.

“Even if the evidence obtained from Kidder’s laptop computer was erroneously admitted at trial, we find the guilty verdicts were surely unattributable to that evidence. Any error in admitting the evidence from Kidder’s laptop computer was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Stephanie Stacy wrote for the unanimous court.