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State v. DeJong

Supreme Court of Nebraska

December 18, 2015


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the District Court for Jefferson County: PAUL W. KORSLUND, Judge.

Susan M. DeJong, Pro se.

Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Erin E. Tangeman for appellee.



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[292 Neb. 307] Miller-Lerman, J.


Susan M. DeJong was convicted after a jury trial of first degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony for the death of her husband, Thomas DeJong (Tom). She was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for the first degree murder conviction and a term of 50 to 50 years' imprisonment for the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony conviction, to be served consecutively. On direct appeal,

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we affirmed Susan's convictions and sentences. See State v. DeJong, 287 Neb. 864, 845 N.W.2d 858 (2014). On September 26, 2014, Susan filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief in the district court for Jefferson County. On December 18, the district court filed an order in which it denied the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. Susan appeals. Upon our review, including Susan's motion, her brief, and the files and records of this case, we determine that there is no merit to Susan's assignments of error, and we therefore affirm the decision of the district court in which it denied Susan's motion for postconviction relief without holding an evidentiary hearing.


The events underlying Susan's convictions and sentences involve the death of her husband, Tom. In our opinion regarding Susan's direct appeal, we set forth the facts as follows:

On March 11, 2011, Susan called the 911 emergency dispatch service at approximately 4 p.m. Susan told the operator that her husband, Tom, was not breathing and was cold to the touch. Susan stated that Tom had gone to South Dakota to be with his " whore" and came home " all . . . beat up." The operator had Susan perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Tom until the emergency units arrived.
When emergency personnel arrived at the DeJong home, Susan was hysterical and she repeatedly stated that the " whore" had done this to Tom. Emergency personnel immediately began resuscitation efforts. Tom was not breathing, and there was no heartbeat. Dried blood was around his nostrils and the top of his mouth. His hands, arms, feet, legs, torso, and head were visibly scratched, cut, and deeply bruised. Emergency personnel were able to help Tom regain a heartbeat.
Tom was taken to the Jefferson Community Health Center and was later transported by ambulance to Bryan Health, west campus trauma center, in Lincoln, Nebraska (Bryan hospital). Laboratory reports and blood tests indicated a threat of imminent heart and renal failure. A chest x ray indicated multiple rib-sided fractures and a partially collapsed lung. A CAT scan revealed the following injuries: a swollen brain; a tremendous amount of fractures within the chest cavity, including the spine, the ribs, and the scapula; a comminuted fracture of the nose; and a possible fracture of the hyoid bone in the neck.
The treating physicians concluded that Tom would not be able to recover from the injuries. The physicians [292 Neb. 309] asked Susan for permission to remove Tom from life support, and she granted the request. Tom passed away shortly thereafter.

Susan's Statements at Hospitals

At the Jefferson Community Health Center, Rebecca McClure, a nurse, stayed with Susan while waiting for Tom's prognosis. The two of them waited in a small quiet room located outside of the emergency room.

Susan told McClure that she had not seen Tom since Wednesday and that he came home that Friday morning. She stated that Tom was " stumbling around in the house" and that the noise woke her up. Tom had been beaten, was cold, and quickly became unresponsive. Susan told McClure that Tom had spent the past days visiting the " whore" in South Dakota. According to Susan, the " whore" would beat Tom with tie-down straps from Tom's semi-truck. Susan also stated that the " whore" and Tom were trying to kill her by giving her a sexually transmitted disease

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(STD). McClure personally drove Susan home after Tom was transported to Lincoln, and Susan then drove herself to Bryan hospital in Lincoln.
Investigator Wendy Ground from the Lincoln Police Department arrived at Bryan hospital at approximately 10:20 p.m. Ground questioned Susan about Tom's injuries. Susan told Ground that Tom had returned home that morning. He looked pale, and he had stated that he did not feel well. Susan told Ground that Tom was apologetic and that he had told her he had made a mistake. According to Susan, Tom said his alleged mistress did not love him and that the mistress went " psycho" and wanted to kill him. Susan told Ground that the mistress had previously tried to kill Susan by cutting her vehicle's brake lines.
Ground asked Susan about Tom's medical history. Susan stated that Tom had been feeling weak and clumsy [292 Neb. 310] for the past 2 1/2 years. Susan stated that he was diagnosed with an STD 1 1/2 years ago. Susan also explained that the current cut on Tom's lip was caused by a pipe when Tom was working with a cow.
After Tom had been declared dead, Ground asked Susan if she was willing to go to the police headquarters for an interview. Susan agreed.

Interrogation of Susan at Police Headquarters

After arriving at the police headquarters at approximately 1 a.m., Ground placed Susan in an interview room. Ground left the room, and Susan began working on her written statement. Susan was left alone in the interview room from 1:12 to 3:04 a.m.

At approximately 3:04 a.m., Ground reentered the interview room. At 3:08 a.m., Ground read Susan her Miranda rights and Susan told Ground that she understood her rights. Susan proceeded to sign the Miranda waiver.
Ground began the interrogation by asking general questions about Tom's injuries and his whereabouts for the week. Susan repeated the facts as she had stated at Bryan hospital.
Susan stated Tom went to Seward, Nebraska, on Monday, March 7, 2011, for a job application and from there he went directly to South Dakota. Susan told Ground that she had talked to him on her cell phone on Monday, March 7, for approximately 44 minutes. According to Susan, Tom indicated that he wanted to be with " that thing." On March 8, Susan and Tom talked for 5 minutes, and Susan told Ground that she likely screamed at him because she was not happy.
At approximately 3:22 a.m., Susan told Ground that she was exhausted. But she continued to talk. Susan explained that the next time she heard from Tom was on Friday morning. She again repeated the same story of what had occurred that day. At approximately 3:34 a.m., [292 Neb. 311] Susan stated that she needed some sleep because she was exhausted.
The questioning continued, and Susan stated that she had confronted Tom when he came home on Friday morning because she was angry. Susan told Ground that she cannot say for sure that Tom drove home and that she does not know how he could have driven in his condition.
At approximately 3:41 a.m., Investigator Robert Farber entered the room and silently sat at the table. At 3:42 a.m., Susan began crying, and at 3:43 a.m., she stated, " I'm tired. I wanna go to bed, please. I'm done, I wanna go to sleep. I'm tired." Farber immediately interrupted her and introduced himself. Farber then told Susan that he had " a couple questions."

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Farber began questioning. He asked Susan when Tom and she were married and whether they have common children. Farber questioned Susan about her relationship with Tom and about Tom's alleged relationship with his mistress. The questions became more directed and intense as Farber continued the interrogation.
In response to the questioning, Susan stated that everybody called Tom a " wheeney" and that he took the beatings from his alleged mistress. Susan also stated that Tom had slapped her in Minnesota. Susan explained that she was arrested for that incident because she decided to not tell the police that Tom had slapped her.
At approximately 4 a.m., Susan again stated, " I'm getting tired, I'm done, I'm tired." Farber interjected again before Susan completed the statement. Farber asked Susan if she had anything to do with the injuries. Susan answered no; Farber continued to ask questions, and Susan continued to answer. For the next 18 minutes, the questions from Farber became more pointed and directed.
At 4:18 a.m., Susan exclaimed, " I want a lawyer, please. I'm tired of this." " I will talk [to] them and they, I want some sleep, please." " I didn't, I will, I just wanted [292 Neb. 312] to live and I loved him so much, and I just wanted to live and he wanted a divorce, and I just wanted to live with him. . . . I loved him." Farber said " okay" and left the room almost immediately. Ground followed.
Susan laid her head down at the table for approximately 30 seconds, stood, and grabbed her keys to leave. Susan opened the door to the interview room and asked to have a cigarette. Ground told her to take a seat. Susan turned around and mumbled, " So sorry. I'm sorry." Ground apparently paused to hear what Susan said and then reentered. Ground silently took a seat at the table in the same spot she sat during the entire interrogation.
Susan talked uninterrupted for nearly 8 minutes with a slow delivery, while Ground sat and listened. Susan stated: " So sorry. I'm sorry. (inaudible) beat by that whore. He used to come home, bruises, bloody nose, black eyes. He's got scars on his back that are not from me. He's got marks on him that are not from me. He'd come home and, well, he'd tell his boss (inaudible) on the trip. He'd tell me he did it on the truck going to (inaudible). Then he'd turn around, go to Sioux Falls and that Gloria. Oren called me today and asked if I'd seen your face. It's all bruised up. I told him that fuckin' cunt you're married to did it. (inaudible) I didn't ever touch him. Didn't ever touch him. When I slapped him in Fairbury, not Fairbury, in (inaudible), what the name of that town? I can't think of it, Burger King, God. The car pulls in there, parked, to get a burger but on the way in is when he finally admitted he'd been sleeping with that thing. Finally admitted it. He got our money, went into Burger King. I got out of the truck and proceeded to walk across the highway to the other little truck stop across the road and he followed me over there. Came up to me, grabbed one of the dogs and I picked my leg up. Leave it alone. And then I proceeded, I walked, was walking, trying to call my son to come get me but he [292 Neb. 313] wouldn'tt answer his stupid phone. Standing there at the back, I'm like I'm going home. I'm going home. Well, fine, I'll take you home. I don't know. I'm going home. That's when he shoved me into the wall and cracked me in the jaw. And I slapped him. Some kid walked out of Burger King. So I'm yowling so he called the cops. Next thing I know they're showing up. He said I'll take you home, I'll take you home. Fine, I'll take you home. Fine, I'll take you home. Then we got in the truck. Next thing I

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know there's the cops. Everybody thinks Tom is such an innocent man. He used to be. He used to be the most loving, gentle, sweet man you could meet. Till he met that (inaudible). Then they started molesting children. I still say I think he was on drugs. Cuz you don't drive 14, 16 hours with nothing. My Blazer for one hasn't ever had a problem with the brakes. I hit a deer. Well, come to find out my front brakes are disconnected. Huh. Excuse me. I don't know. I just know that (inaudible) no more getting shoved. (inaudible) I didn't poison him. He is what he is from what he plays with. (inaudible) He told me he was going to kill me. (inaudible) kill me. (inaudible) Am I under arrest?"
Ground told Susan that the decision for arrest was up to the police department in Fairbury, Nebraska. Ground answered some questions from Susan, but did not ask Susan any questions.
Susan continued: " Self-defense, because I don't bruise and he does. That's pretty much the way that goes. (inaudible) she did (inaudible) to him. For what she did to him. He wasn't the man I married. What I told you about it is all true. It does deal drugs, (inaudible) drugs, go psycho. And it went psycho on him more than once. Does molest children. Little boy's name's Chris. . . . I have to be arraigned within 24 hours. I know that, why not. Just like the deal in Minnesota. And he'll walk away scott free. And there's a lot of the injuries he had [that were] [292 Neb. 314] not from me. The worse one he get that I can remember is falling off the ladder. That one scared me. Why didn't I just leave. Why didn't I just run. Because he always showed up. He always showed up. (inaudible) I ...

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