Patrick Schroeder becomes 12th man on Nebraska's "Death Row"

Patrick Schroeder, front, is escorted into Johnson County District Court Room (Photo: Brendan Sullivan, Omaha World-Herald)
June 1, 2018 - 6:58pm

Patrick Schroeder, a two-time murderer from who grew up within miles of the state prison in Tecumseh, became the 12th man moved onto Nebraska’s Death Row at that facility.


Judge Vicky Johnson reads the sentencing order as Patrick Schroeder listens.
(Photos: Brendan Sullivan, Omaha World-Herald)

He was housed in the correctional center’s restricted Special Management Unit in 2017 when he killed his cellmate, Terry Berry Jr. It was Schroeder’s second killing in 11 years.

On Friday in Johnson County District Court, Judge Vicky Johnson spent nearly an hour carefully reading the rationale for a sentence of death she and two other judges unanimously agreed upon. Judges Robert Otte of Lancaster County and John Marsh of Buffalo County had been selected at random to assist in determining the sentence.

Schroeder, 40, strangled Berry while they watched mixed martial arts in the cell they shared. Schroeder told police the man was talking too much and did not like him from the start. Berry died after days in a coma. Berry, jailed for check forgery, would have been paroled within a week.

In the sentencing order Johnson called Berry’s death “disturbing…and especially cruel.”

(Read the sentencing order HERE)

Even as Schroeder chose not to defend his actions nor challenge a death sentence, Johnson said “it is the law, not the defendant’s wishes” which brought about the “ultimate conclusion” of the panel of judges.

The order laid out the legal justifications for a death sentence. There were aggravating circumstances beyond regular felony murder, in this case a previous homicide. There were no mitigating circumstances such as mental illness, or coercion to kill from another person which might warrant another sentence. The judges also reviewed previous death penalty cases to measure whether the punishment was in keeping with comparable cases. The found it met that criteria as well.

After reading the 45 minutes of background into the court record, Johnson declared in a measured voice that Schroeder was sentenced to death.

John James, Berry’s grandfather and the only relative of the victim attending the hearing, let out a quiet “yes” as the judge concluded.

Outside the courtroom, James called Schroeder “a gutless good-for-nothing” while speaking with reporters. “May he rot in the gates of hell.”

Schroeder, as in all of his court appearances, remained emotionless and said nothing in his own defense. He has only spoken publicly twice about the murder. Once, by way of an audio recording during an interview with the Nebraska State Patrol investigator set to speak with him after the incident while Berry was still on life support. The confession was played in court during the April sentencing hearing.

Schroeder also spoke by phone with NET News about the killing.

“I knew as soon as they moved (Terry) in my room on April 10 that it was probably going to end up in that situation,” Schroeder said during the interview, adding he had even warned him he might be killed.

I told him on two different occasions, ‘You need to figure out a way to get outta here or something bad's going to happen to you.’”

Schroeder was already serving a life sentence for the murder of 75-year-old Kenneth Albers, a Pawnee City farmer he had previously worked for. He robbed the man, beat him to death with a night stick and dumped the body in a well on the farm.

After the hearing Schroeder was led back to prison the same way he arrived. In shackles and surrounded by security.

The law requires the case be reviewed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

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