Facing likely death sentence, prison murderer will tell judges he won’t challenge execution

إبريل 18, 2018, 6:45 ص ·

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Patrick Schroeder doesn't disagree with the state's plans to sentence him to death.

“When I knew that they were going to be charging me with the death penalty, I knew what my choices were," Schroeder told NET News. "I knew what I was going to do.”

He’s not going to put up a fight.

Terry Berry, Jr. died April 20, 2017, five days after being strangled in his cell at the Tecumseh Correctional Institution. (NDCS)

Patrick Schroeder was charged with first-degree murder. He was already serving time for a previous homicide. (NDCS)

Schroeder strangled his cellmate at the Tecumseh Correctional Institution on April 15, 2017, and made his confession before Terry Berry, Jr. died, never coming out of a coma.

One year later Schroeder is scheduled to appear in the Johnson County courthouse before a panel of three Nebraska district court judges who will determine if the inmate meets the legal qualification for death by lethal injection.

Last fall Schroeder made the extraordinary decision to proceed with the remainder of the legal proceedings without the state-appointed lawyers prepared to defend him. At one point the attorneys advanced a motion to declare Nebraska's death penalty process unconstitutional. Schroder shut down that effort and waived his right to an attorney in future proceedings.

NET News reviewed all executions conducted in Nebraska since statehood and found no other case in which the accused voluntarily dropped any impediment to proceeding with the death penalty before the sentence was even pronounced.

The case began in 2006 when Schroder murdered 75-year-old Kenny Albers, a Pawnee City farmer who had once given him a job. An Otoe County jury sentenced Schroeder to life in prison.

With the Tecumseh prison chronically overcrowded, Schroeder was not given his own cell in the Special Management Unit. Five days after Berry moved into the cell Schroeder attacked him.

Bill Kelly of NET News recorded two phone calls with Schroeder who wanted an opportunity to explain why he was not challenging a possible death sentence.

(Note: The transcript below has been edited for length and in some cases some answers were combined to create a clear sequence of events. Copyright 2018 NET Foundation for Television.)

Bill Kelly (NET News): You entered the guilty plea for the murder of your cellmate and you told the ourt you don't want lawyers to represent you even during this coming hearing, even though you might be sentenced to death. Why did you do that?

Patrick Schroeder: Well, I had plead guilty to it because I'm taking responsibility for my actions and it was kind of obvious that I'm the one that did it. As far as the reason for firing my attorneys, the way I want to go about doing it and the way they would have to go about doing it, it's two different ways.

They're obligated to give me their best defense and, I guess, I don't want them to sit there and start making excuses for reasons (that I killed Terry Berry). I did what I did. I'm taking responsibility for my actions. I don't want some lawyer telling the courts that, "Well, he did it for this reason or that reason." I'm not going to go through that.

Kelly: That does mean that you're facing the death penalty at this point.

Schroeder: Yes, it does.

Kelly: You've really thought through that?

Schroeder: From day one, when I knew that they were going to be charging me with the death penalty, I knew what my choices were, I knew what I was going to do. That's just like on my first case with the Kenny Albers case. The first time the cops come talk to me, I explained everything to them, I'm not going to lie to them (See editor’s note below). I take responsibility for my actions. I knew what I was doing.

Kelly: Can you talk about what happened in your cell that day?

Schroeder: I got tired of him. You got to kind of, I guess, back up a little bit on that. These cells are 12 by 10. I've got a case of OCD. I don't do well with cellies (cellmates) to begin with, it's too small of an area. In segregation, which is where we were at when it happened, you're locked down 23 hours a day. They never asked me if I wanted a celly, they never made me aware of it until they brought him in. I'm doing a life sentence, I'm never getting out, and he's in here for writing some checks. There was no compatibility at all.

Kelly: Did you think at some point in time you were going to kill him kind of regardless of what the scenario was going to be? Did you just see it heading in that direction?

Schroeder: Honestly, I knew as soon as they moved him in my room on April 10 that it was probably going to end up in that situation, yes.

Kelly: Did you warn Terry Berry that he might be killed?

Schroeder: 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." Then on another occasion I explained to him, "Hey, this isn't going to end well for you."

Kelly: Would this have been a risk for anybody who was put with you?

Schroeder: Not necessarily. If somebody I know, somebody that knows how to do time, that was the main issue with him is he didn't know how to do time. I've been down for 12 years and you put somebody in that don't know how to do time, that's childish, and don't know how to act right, it's a disaster. If it would've been somebody I knew, like I said, that knew how to do time, it'd have been a whole different story.

Kelly: The prosecuting attorney mentioned that it was a television program (Terry Berry) was talking about that set you off. Is that your memory?

Schroeder: Well, it wasn't so much a television show that set it off. We were watching UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts) and he just kept talking, and talking, and wouldn't shut up. I told him, I said, "I'm going to put you in a rear naked choke hold if you don't shut up." That's exactly what I ended up doing. He said something, I can't even recall what it was, and I just snapped, and kind of put him in a choke hold, and I held him in a choke hold until my arm got tired, then I wrapped a towel around his neck. That's basically what happened.

Kelly: There are going to be people who are going to hear this and say, "If somebody's a bad roommate, they still don't deserve to die."

Schroeder: And they're right, they don't, but that was the step that I took. That was the decision that I chose to take. I'm me, I made the decision. That's one of the reasons I took responsibility for my actions and pled guilty instead of dragging it out and have 12 people from society (a jury) come in and have to go through something that they didn't have to go through, didn't need to go through. It was a decision I made.

Kelly: Where do they take you after (the murder); does the questioning start right away?

Schroeder: No. That happened on Saturday, I didn't actually get questioned until Monday by (the) State Patrol.

Kelly: You told them just like you told me.

Schroeder: Exactly what happened. I told her exactly what happened.

Kelly: While you're talking to the patrolman, are you feeling anything?

Schroeder: Nothing. It's just like me and you sitting here talking. There's no emotion. I wish I could find somebody I could talk to that could tell me why. Mental health around here, they got so much other crap going on with other people that I don't even try to bother to talk to them. I don't know why I don't feel any remorse or emotions.

Kelly: Do you feel like death is an appropriate punishment for somebody who murders within the penitentiary?

Schroeder: To answer that real quick, yes. I believe in the death penalty, I honestly do. I believe if you kill somebody it's kind of an eye for an eye. I also believe that child molesters should be sentenced to death. That's my opinion. I'm probably one of the few inmates that actually believes in the death penalty.

Kelly: There's been a lot of discussion that the method of lethal injection has not been tested in the state yet. Do you have any fears about that particular method and the type of chemicals that they will use if you face lethal injection?

Schroeder: Not really. To me, whether it's painless or there's pain involved, I did what I did. I got what I got coming.

Kelly: You're pretty harsh with Mr. Terry. I'm wondering if you feel bad about his death?

Schroeder: I do not. Even back when the whole Kenny Albers deal. I have no emotions about the death of him or the death of Terry Berry. There's no emotions, no remorse.

Kelly: Why do you think that is?

Schroeder: I don't know. I've asked the mental health people here and they won't give me an answer. That's one thing, it bothers me that I don't have any feelings. That's another reason, and I explained it to Sarah, my attorney (from the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, since fired by Schroeder:), on a couple different occasions about why I'm not going to fight the death penalty because is if they just give me another life sentence, I honestly feel that I'll kill again. There is no emotion there. To me, it's just something that can be done.

Kelly: Do you ever think about how life could've been different for you?

Schroeder: Well, I don't really worry about the past. I can't change it. I don't worry about the future, because, well, it's not here yet. I do my days kind of a day-to-day basis. I don't worry about things that I have no control over. Like the past, I have no control over. I can sit here, and lay in bed, and daydream about what things would've been like if I wouldn't have killed Kenny Albers and what maybe a perfect life I would've had, but it's all fairy tales and dreams. I don't do that.

Kelly: What kind of guy were you before Kenny Albers died?

Schroeder: I worked. I've got a criminal record that goes back to when I was about eight-years-old. I did a lot of stealing and thieving and stuff like that. As of right now, I've already got a first-degree murder charge on me, I've got another one that I'm facing, I've got a bank robbery charge, I've got a weapons charge. The only thing I've never been convicted of is drugs. If it's on the books, I've been charged with it, I guess. That and sex crimes, I've never. Nothing like that.

Kelly: You given any thought to why you are the way you are?

Schroeder: I have and I've never been able to come up with an answer. It's kind of like this whole Albers, Berry situation of why don't I feel any remorse? To me, you can compare it to taking out the trash. There's no emotion there. I don't understand why. I wish I did. I think that'd clear up a whole lot of things in my head.

Kelly: Was there anything you liked about your life before you ended up on the homicide charge?

Schroeder: Well, don't get me wrong. I loved my life. My wife, kids, job. I was always looking for the easy way out, which is just kind of the way I was raised. I rebelled since I was probably 10 or 11-years-old. No, I liked my life before all this happened, but it all happened, it was all over money.

Kelly: How so?

Schroeder: Well, with the Albers deal, it was a robbery. That's what that was over.

Kelly: What happened that day? What happened the day Mr. Albers died?

Schroeder: I had stolen some checks from him prior and wrote some checks, ordered some checks that I knew he was going to eventually end up going to the law enforcement. I was hoping I could get to him before he did that, which I was a day late.

Kelly: So it was a combination both the robbery and trying to keep him quiet about the checks?

Schroeder: Yeah. I used to work for him and I always knew he kept a fairly decent amount of cash in the safe in his house. It was known to pretty much everybody that he did. It was basically a quick buck.

Schroeder: I showed up at his house at like 4:30 a.m., knocked on his door, and he came to the door, I confronted him, and I ended up assaulting him with a night stick, which was a 22-inch riot baton. I basically hit him five times in the head, which is literally what killed him, and I drove him south to the farmstead of his and dropped him in a well.

Kelly: That was to cover up the crime?

Schroeder: That was an attempt to cover up the crime, yeah; but State Patrol brought in his son and his son took them up to that area, because he knew they'd owned that piece of parcel and seen fresh tire tracks.

Kelly: Has family visited you?

Schroeder; I get visits randomly from my wife, because while we're in the hole they're video visits and I hate video visits. To me, they're just a waste of time.

Kelly: You've been reluctant to talk about family in all of this.

Schroeder: Well, that's another reason that I went ahead and pled guilty and I didn't drag this out. I've got nothing but time on my hands, so technically I could've just drug this out for two, three years. But I'm not going to drag my family through another trial; let alone one that's got implications of the death penalty. I already did that twice on the first murder trial. The first one ended in a hung jury so we had to have another one, the Albers case. I wasn't going to put my kids, and my wife, and my family through that again.

Kelly: Has your family said if they're upset about you going ahead and allowing the death penalty?

Schroeder: No. They're not upset. They understand the way I think and know me. It's one of them things that they know. If I'm going to make a decision, I'm going to make it whether they approve of it or not.

(Editor’s Note: There are significant differences in Schroeder’s initial reaction to the murders of Kenny Albers and Terry Berry, Jr. After murdering Berry, Schroeder supplied a complete confession to a Nebraska State Patrol investigator. In 2006, after the Albers’ murder, Schroeder was brought in for questioning within hours of the murder but remained evasive with the investigator before providing a confession. During two trials, one resulting in a hung jury, Schroeder pled not guilty and his attorney attempted to keep the confessions out of evidence. After the guilty verdict in Otoe County District Court, Schroeder’s attorneys appealed the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court upheld the verdict and declined the request for a new trial. In the Berry case, Schroeder pled guilty, rejecting a jury trial, and claims there will be no future appeals.)