Neb. prisoner’s wrongful conviction claim rejected

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected a claim seeking $500,000 from the state by an inmate whose 1985 murder conviction was vacated, but who is still serving a life sentence on other charges.

Troy Hess, 49, sued the state in 2009, years after the Nebraska Supreme Court vacated his 1985 second-degree murder conviction and 30-year sentence for the beating death of Creighton University law student Michael Snell after an argument in an Omaha bar.

Based on that ruling, Hess sued under the state’s wrongful conviction act, serving as his own attorney.

Trial on the lawsuit was held last February, with the only disputed issue being whether Hess was innocent of the second-degree murder charge. Hess, relying on the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, argued that he did not need to prove his innocence. A Douglas County District judge rejected that argument, and Hess appealed.

On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s denial of his claim, saying Hess had not shown - as required by the state’s wrongful conviction law - that he was innocent of the charges in the murder case.

“Moreover, the state introduced (evidence) that … tends to show that Hess committed the crime for which he now alleges he was wrongfully convicted,” Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote for the court. “Hess‘ conviction and sentence were vacated on the basis of jury instructions regarding malice and not as the result of any definitive conclusion about Hess‘ guilt in Snell’s death.”

Hess is serving life for kidnapping, assault on an officer and weapons counts for an armed escape attempt from a Lancaster County courtroom in 1993.

The escape attempt occurred when he was brought to court for sentencing in a case involving an assault of a prison guard. During the escape attempt, he briefly took another prison guard hostage.

An armed standoff ensued, which ended when Hess accidentally shot himself in the foot.

Months after the standoff, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a ruling on second-degree murder requiring that malice be an essential element of the crime and that juries be instructed so. That opened the door for new trials for Hess and 124 other inmates serving sentences for the offense, which led to Hess‘ second-degree murder conviction being vacated.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond Friday to a message seeking comment.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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