Nebraska athlete's killer petitions Supreme Court


LINCOLN, Neb. -- A Washington, D.C.-based law firm has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the trial of a man convicted of killing University of Nebraska soccer player Jenna Cooper.

Steptoe & Johnson agreed to file the appeal at no cost to Lucky Iromuanya, who was convicted of second-degree murder.

Michael Ripps, the firm's lead attorney on the case, said some testimony in the case was "highly prejudicial."

Iromuanya, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury. He never denied firing the single shot at the April 2004 party that grazed Nolan Jenkins' scalp and then struck Cooper, 21, just below the neck. She died later at a hospital.

Defense attorneys argued during the trial that Iromuanya never meant to kill anyone but meant only to fire a warning shot.

Iromuanya pulled the gun and fired after being confronted by Jenkins about shot glasses that had been stolen from Cooper's house, where a party was under way. It was later revealed that someone else had taken the glasses.

"The [U.S. Supreme Court] petition focuses on the difficulties Lucky had in obtaining a fair trial," Ripps said.

Those difficulties included evidence about Cooper's accomplishments and allowing Cooper's mother to identify her in a picture that showed her dying on an operating table.

"That's my baby girl, Jenna," Ellen Cooper said in court before breaking into tears.

"A doctor had already identified her," Ripps said. "Number two, Lucky was willing to stipulate it was the body. There was really no point to this testimony."

The state Supreme Court rejected that particular claim, saying the testimony was short and came on the first day of a trial with 29 witnesses.

Ripps said in the petition that Iromuanya's trial was made unfair by a racially charged atmosphere in Lincoln after the death, and that white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups distributed flyers in Cooper's neighborhood and held a rally at the Capitol.

"White supremacist organization used Iromuanya's case as a rallying point and did all they could to influence the community and the atmosphere surrounding the trial," Ripps said in the petition.

Ripps, who is from Omaha, agreed to take the case after giving a visiting lecture at the university in September. He learned of the case through the professor who invited him, Gerald Shapiro, who knows Iromuanya's sister, Julie.

The Nebraska Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the petition. The office represented the state in Iromuanya's appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We'll respond appropriately to ensure that justice has been served once we receive a copy of the petition," spokeswoman Holley Hatt said.