Nebraska Supreme Court grills Joshua Keadle’s lawyer on merits of latest appeal | Crime-and-courts | #College. | #Students

Prosecutors at trial argued he had taken Thomas out to a boat ramp along the river intending to kill her, and dumped her body in the river. Keadle maintained he left the 19-year-old there — alive — when she refused to get back in his Ford Explorer.

Her body never was found.

On Tuesday, though, as Pickens cast new doubt on the same facts of the case, justices cast doubt on the lawyer’s understanding of the appeal.

Pickens appealed to the state’s Supreme Court on the basis of corpus delicti, a common law legal device that refers to the principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing it.

But in Nebraska murder trials, the device revolves largely around confessions.

“What’s the purpose of the common law rule of corpus delicti?” Justice Stephanie Stacy asked, interrupting Pickens as he described Facebook posts Thomas had made before her disappearance. “What’s the purpose? What’s trying to be achieved by the rule?”

“To ensure that folks who confess to crimes that weren’t actually committed are not convicted,” Pickens replied.

“Do we have a confession in this case?” Stacy asked.

“No,” Pickens conceded. “There’s some unfortunate statements. There’s some dishonesty. There’s, I suppose, some misdirection. But there’s no confession.”

“So, in a murder case where there is no confession in play, what purpose does the rule of corpus delicti serve that isn’t already served by requiring a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?” Stacy asked.

And so went the latest appeal of Keadle’s conviction.

Pickens, throughout his argument Tuesday, was peppered by nearly every justice with questions that seemed to cast doubt on the merits of the appeal.

The lawyer maintained that he was not simply asking the justices to reweigh the evidence — which is not the role of an appellate court. Instead, Pickens recited the facts of the case and the events that led up to Thomas’ disappearance, claiming the state didn’t have sufficient evidence that a crime occurred.

Even if prosecutors proved the elements of the crime, he argued, it doesn’t mean they’d proven corpus delicti — that the crime had been committed at all.

And Pickens lamented what the common law rule has come to mean in Nebraska, now seeming to require an attached confession, though the dictionary definition of the doctrine doesn’t mention one.

“The corpus delicti rule at least used to mean something,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t mean as much as it used to.”

Speaking on behalf of the state, Assistant Attorney General Melissa Vincent summarized Pickens’ appeal as “nothing more than an invitation to this court” to reweigh the evidence already considered by a jury.

Vincent noted that prosecutors don’t have to provide blood evidence in murder cases when circumstantial evidence is enough to convict a defendant, as it was in the case of Keadle, whose own admissions helped put him away.

She said that the existence of physical evidence has never been a requirement in murder trials to prove that a crime occurred.

“Nor does that requirement make sense,” she said. “It’s possible to kill a person in ways that do not produce physical evidence apart from the body itself. And in any event, physical evidence can be destroyed.

“Both possibilities exist in this case.”

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