State v. Iromuanya

Decision Date11 August 2006
Docket NumberNo. S-05-367.,S-05-367.
PartiesSTATE of Nebraska, Appellee, v. Lucky I. IROMUANYA, Appellant.
CourtNebraska Supreme Court

Korey L. Reiman, of Reiman Law Firm, and John Stevens Berry, John S. Berry, and Jason M. Caskey, Senior Certified Law Student, of Berry & Kelley Law Firm, Lincoln, for appellant.

Jon Bruning, Attorney General, and James D. Smith, Lincoln, for appellee.



During a party at a Lincoln, Nebraska, residence in the early morning hours of April 25, 2004, Lucky I. Iromuanya fired a single shot from a derringer handgun which wounded Nolan Jenkins and killed Jenna Cooper. Following a jury trial, he was convicted on one count of attempted second degree murder and a related count of use of a weapon to commit a felony in connection with the injury to Jenkins, and one count of second degree murder and a related count of use of a weapon to commit a felony relating to the death of Cooper. He was sentenced to 25 to 35 years' imprisonment on the attempted second degree murder conviction and 10 to 20 years' imprisonment on the related weapons conviction. He received a sentence of not less than life imprisonment nor more than life imprisonment on the second degree murder conviction and 10 to 20 years' imprisonment on the weapons conviction related to that charge. The four sentences were ordered to run consecutively. Iromuanya appeals from these convictions and sentences.


On the evening of April 24, 2004, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students Cooper and Lindsey Ingram hosted a barbeque and party at the Lincoln residence they shared. Both women were members of the university's varsity soccer team. The evening was planned because spring soccer season had just ended and final examinations were approaching. An initial group of 10 to 15 people gathered in the early evening hours. In addition to Cooper and Ingram, this group included several of their current teammates and a former teammate who was visiting Lincoln. Also present were Jenkins, who was dating Ingram, and Jenkins' cousin. Throughout the evening hours, most of those present consumed alcohol, and some played "drinking games." Witnesses testified that the party attendees were drinking and having a good time but that the party was not "wild."

After midnight, more people arrived at the party in several groups. One group included Carrington Hartley and Nathanial Buss, who both practiced against the women's soccer team and were acquainted with Cooper and other players. Another group included Margaret Rugh, who had been given directions to the party by someone who accompanied Hartley and Buss. Rugh had been acquainted with Iromuanya for several weeks. Shortly after her arrival, Rugh called Iromuanya and asked him to come to the party. Iromuanya and his friend Aroun Phaisan, who had both been at a downtown bar from approximately 11:45 p.m. until closing time, arrived at the party at approximately 1:30 a.m. in Phaisan's vehicle. Each had consumed one beer at the bar. When they arrived at the party, Phaisan parked his vehicle across the street from the house. Rugh greeted them outside the residence, took them inside, and introduced them to others who were present. Phaisan testified that during this time, people at the party were friendly to him and Iromuanya.

The events leading to the shooting began in the living room of the residence where a shot glass collection belonging to Cooper was displayed on open shelves. Several persons, including Phaisan and Iromuanya, had been standing in the general vicinity of the collection. Phaisan testified that he observed a Caucasian male handling some of the shot glasses. Buss testified that one of his friends showed him some shot glasses he had taken from the collection and asked for the keys to the vehicle which Buss had driven to the party. Buss gave him the keys. Buss knew that the collection belonged to either Ingram or Cooper, so he advised Ingram that "somebody," a male, had taken some shot glasses from the collection. Buss did not identify the individual by name but generally pointed him out to Ingram. Angered, Ingram confronted the individual. There is conflicting testimony as to whether this confrontation occurred in the house or in the driveway to the house. In any event, the individual admitted taking the shot glasses and placing them in a vehicle, and Ingram demanded that they go to the vehicle to retrieve them. In the meantime, Buss had gone to another room where Cooper was talking on a telephone and informed her of the incident. Upon hearing this, Cooper ended her telephone conversation and went outside. Buss followed shortly thereafter.

Inside the house, Phaisan had heard mention of the missing shot glasses and became concerned that he and Iromuanya might be accused of the theft because they had been standing in the area of the collection and were unknown to most of the persons at the party. He told Iromuanya that they should leave, and they exited the residence several minutes later. As Ingram was walking to the vehicle to retrieve the shot glasses, she observed Phaisan and Iromuanya leaving the house "very quickly." Knowing that they had been standing in the same area of the living room as the individual who had taken the glasses, and uncertain whether they had had any involvement in the incident, Ingram told them "very assertively" that no one could leave until everything was returned.

Adam Ellingson, who had been invited to the party by his friend Jenkins, had arrived at approximately 9 p.m. Later in the evening, he observed a group of people whom he did not know, including Phaisan and Iromuanya, standing in the general vicinity of the shot glass collection in the living room. He did not see anyone handle or take the shot glasses. At approximately 2 a.m., Ellingson went outside to check the windows of his vehicle, which was parked on the street in front of the house. Standing in the front yard, he observed a male whom he did not know come out of the house, followed closely by Ingram. Ellingson heard Ingram say that she wanted the shot glasses returned. During this conversation, Ellingson observed another male approaching the person to whom Ingram was talking and also observed Iromuanya and Phaisan come out of the house. He heard Ingram say that no one could leave until the shot glasses were returned. At that point, Ellingson went to the front door and called to Jenkins to come outside. He then returned to the front yard.

When Jenkins came out of the house, he grabbed Iromuanya's sweatshirt with both hands, pushing him backward, and asked if he had stolen items from the house. Iromuanya tried to push Jenkins away, stating that he had done nothing, and the two scuffled for approximately 5 seconds. Ellingson stepped in and placed Iromuanya in a bear hug to keep him from Jenkins, and Phaisan ultimately separated Iromuanya from Ellingson. Hartley also helped by pushing Jenkins backward. As they were being separated, Iromuanya punched Jenkins in the back of the head. Ellingson testified that Iromuanya denied taking anything or doing anything wrong and said Ellingson could search him. Ellingson replied that he did not wish to search Iromuanya, but asked him not to leave until the shot glasses had been retrieved. Buss, who was also present during this confrontation, told Jenkins that Iromuanya had not taken the shot glasses.

After the scuffle, Brooke Bredenberg, one of the party guests, told Jenkins that Iromuanya was not the person who had taken the shot glasses. Seeing that Iromuanya "appeared to be very, very angry and appeared . . . like he still wanted to fight," Ingram approached him and told him several times to "calm down" and "chill out." Ingram testified that Iromuanya appeared not to pay attention to her and was focused on Jenkins, who was behind her. Iromuanya did not become calm. At that point, Ingram and Jenkins went to retrieve the shot glasses from the vehicle.

Buss, Hartley, Ellingson, and Cooper remained with Iromuanya. Phaisan was also in the area. Iromuanya was very upset, jumping around and repeating phrases such as "you don't know me" and "[d]on't mess with me." Iromuanya repeatedly asked who had run up on him. Observing that Iromuanya "was obviously pretty perturbed, pretty upset," Hartley approached him in an effort to calm him. Hartley testified that Iromuanya did not appear to be afraid, but, rather, was "riled up. I mean I would parallel his behavior to a fighting cock. He was all riled up, he was ready to go basically." Hartley believed that because he and Iromuanya were members of the same racial minority group and because Hartley knew the people at the party and Iromuanya did not, Hartley could provide Iromuanya with assurance that "nobody would be messing with him, that he would be fine and he would calm down." Hartley tried to talk to Iromuanya, but Iromuanya was still focused on Jenkins and was still yelling. Iromuanya tried to get around Hartley, so Hartley grabbed his arm. Iromuanya gave Hartley a "cold stare," and Hartley released his grasp. Iromuanya kept moving back and forth and Hartley had to move correspondingly in order to keep himself between Iromuanya and the direction of Jenkins.

At that point, Cooper stepped in and attempted to speak to Iromuanya in order to calm him, but he continued yelling in the direction that Jenkins had gone. Buss had informed Cooper that Iromuanya had not taken the shot glasses. Iromuanya eventually acknowledged Cooper and seemed to become calmer, but then Cooper mentioned the shot glasses and he again became upset, stating that he had not taken them. Buss...

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