Nebraska Supreme Court orders new trial in Omaha killings
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Supreme Court ordered a new trial Friday for a man serving three life sentences for the shooting deaths of three Omaha men in a robbery gone wrong, saying prosecutors improperly relied on hearsay evidence to convict him.
Timothy Britt, 28, was convicted in 2014 of three counts of first-degree murder in connection to the July 2012 deaths of Miguel Avalos Sr., 44, and two of his sons, 18-year-old son Miguel Avalos Jr. and 16-year-old Jose Avalos.
Prosecutors say Britt and Anthony Davis — who was also convicted of three first-degree murder counts and sentenced to three life terms — went to the Avalos home to steal drugs and money, but that the robbery “went horribly wrong.”
During trial, prosecutors laid out a case in which Davis and Britt went to the Avalos house with two women, who later testified against the men in exchange for immunity, saying they remained in a vehicle while the men went into the house. The women gave conflicting testimony about Britt’s involvement, but said Davis later seemed edgy and fearful and that the men argued after leaving the house. A different woman — Davis’ girlfriend at the time — said Britt gave her a handgun that police believe was used in the killings.
Britt’s attorneys argued that the women in the car were in on the planned robbery and that it was another person who was with Davis during the robbery and killings. Defense attorneys also argued that it was Davis who handed a gun to his girlfriend, not Britt.
At issue in Friday’s decision were hearsay statements that defense attorneys objected to during the trial. Several witnesses testified that Davis had told the women they needed to leave town because their safety was in jeopardy, that he had told his girlfriend that he did not want her near Britt and that Britt was “trigger happy” and had started the shootings.
The state Supreme Court said the trial court wrongly allowed those hearsay statements, which the court said were intended to place the bulk of culpability for the killings on Britt.
“The weight of the erroneously admitted evidence relative to the rest of the untainted, relevant evidence of guilt is significant,” Justice John Wright wrote. “Therefore, we cannot conclude that the guilty verdict rendered in this trial was surely unattributable to the erroneous admission of Davis’ inadmissible hearsay statements.”
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he’s confident his office has enough evidence, even without the hearsay, to move forward with a new trial.
An attorney for Britt, Glenn Shapiro, isn’t as convinced.
“If you strike that (hearsay) testimony, I think that gives the defendant a much better opportunity at trial to defend himself,” Shapiro said.