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State v. Mantich

Supreme Court of Nebraska

December 23, 2016

State of Nebraska, appellee,
Douglas M. Mantich, appellant.

          1. Sentences: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will not disturb a sentence imposed within the statutory limits absent an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

         2. Judges: Words and Phrases. A judicial abuse of discretion exists when the reasons or rulings of a trial judge are clearly untenable, unfairly depriving a litigant of a substantial right and denying just results in matters submitted for disposition.

         3. Constitutional Law: Minors: Sentences. Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses is unconstitutional; such juvenile offenders must be given some meaningful opportunity for relief based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

         4. Constitutional Law: Homicide: Minors: Sentences. There is no categorical bar against life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide offenses; however, the sentencing court must consider specific, individualized factors before handing down a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a juvenile.

         5. Homicide: Sentences. Felony murder is a homicide offense, and there is no bar against sentences of life without parole.

         6. Constitutional Law: Criminal Law: Sentences. The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence, but, rather, forbids only extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime.

         Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: J Russell Derr, Judge. Affirmed.

          [295 Neb. 408] Adam J. Sipple, of Johnson & Mock, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

          Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Melissa R. Vincent for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Wright, Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ.

          Heavican, C.J.


         Douglas M. Mantich was convicted of first degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony. He was initially sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction; he was later granted postconviction relief in the form of resentencing as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama.[1] Following a hearing, Mantich was sentenced to 90 years' to 90 years' imprisonment on the first degree murder conviction. He appeals. We affirm.


         Mantich was convicted of first degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony in September 1994. The following factual recitation is from this court's 2014 opinion vacating Mantich's life sentence:

On December 5, 1993, a gathering was held to mourn the death of a "Lomas" gang member. Several members of the gang attended the party, including Mantich, Gary Brunzo, Daniel Eona, Juan Carrera, and Angel Huerta. At the gathering, Mantich consumed between 5 and 10 beers and smoked marijuana in a 21/2-hour period.
Sometime after 1 a.m., Carrera decided that he wanted to steal a car and commit a driveby shooting of a member [295 Neb. 409] of a rival gang. While holding a gun, Eona responded that he also wanted to steal a car and talked about "jackin: somebody" and "putting a gun to their head." Brunzo and Eona then walked toward Dodge Street to steal a vehicle. They returned about 20 minutes later in a stolen red mini-van, and Carrera and Huerta got in. Over his girlfriend's objection and attempt to physically restrain him, Mantich also got into the van.
The van had no rear seats. Eona was in the driver's seat, and Brunzo was in the front passenger seat. Carrera sat behind the driver's seat; Huerta sat on the passenger side, close to the sliding side door; and Mantich sat behind Carrera and Huerta, toward the back of the van. After a short time, Mantich realized that a man, later identified as Henry Thompson, was in the van. Thompson was kneeling between the driver's seat and the front passenger seat with his hands over his head and his head facing the front of the van.
The gang members began chanting "Cuz" and "Blood." Mantich thought the purpose was to make Thompson believe they were affiliated with a different gang. Eona demanded Thompson's money, and Brunzo told Thompson they were going to shoot him. Mantich saw Brunzo and Eona poke Thompson in the head with their guns. Eventually, a shot was fired and Thompson was killed. Thompson's body was pulled out of the van and left on 13th Street.
The group then drove to Carrera's house so he could retrieve his gun. After this, they drove by a home and fired several shots at it from the vehicle. Later, they sank the van in the Missouri River and walked back to 13th Street. From there, Mantich and Huerta took all the guns and went to Huerta's house to hide them. Brunzo, Eona, and Carrera walked toward the area of Thompson's body.
[295 Neb. 410] After hiding the guns with Huerta, Mantich walked to Brian Dilly's house. While still intoxicated, Mantich told Dilly and Dilly's brothers about the events of the night. Mantich claimed he had pulled the trigger and killed Thompson. When the 6 o'clock news featured a story on the homicide, Mantich said, '"I told you so, '" and "'I told you I did it.'" About an hour after the newscast, Mantich told Dilly that Brunzo was actually the person who shot and killed Thompson. The police later learned about Mantich's conversations with Dilly, and arrest warrants were issued for Mantich, Brunzo, Eona, and Carrera. Mantich was arrested on January 4, 1994.
Mantich agreed to talk with Omaha police about what happened and initially claimed that Brunzo shot Thompson. The police told Mantich that statements were being obtained from Brunzo, Eona, and Carrera and that Mantich's statement was inconsistent with the information the police had acquired. The police also told Mantich that Dilly said Mantich confessed to shooting Thompson. Mantich admitted telling Dilly he shot Thompson, but explained that it was a lie and that he was only trying to look like "a bad ass." Mantich claimed that he had not shot anyone and that Brunzo was the shooter.
The police then told Mantich they knew what happened and assured Mantich that his family and girlfriend "would not abandon him" if he told the truth. At this point, Mantich admitted that he had pulled the trigger. Mantich said, '"I'm sorry it happened. I wished it wouldn't have happened.'" Mantich further stated, "'They handed me the gun and said shoot him, so I did it.'" Mantich again confessed during a taped statement to shooting Thompson.
Mantich testified in his own behalf at trial. He acknowledged his statements to Dilly and the police that he had shot Thompson, but told the jury that he had not shot Thompson. On September 26, 1994, the jury returned a [295 Neb. 411] verdict of guilty on one charge of first degree murder and one charge of use of a firearm to commit a felony.[2]

         Mantich was 15 years old at the time of the commission of the acts leading to his convictions. His murder conviction was based upon felony murder with the underlying felonies of kidnapping, robbery, or both. Mantich was sentenced to life imprisonment on the first degree murder conviction and 5 to 20 years' imprisonment on the use conviction. Mantich's convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal.[3]

         Mantich subsequently filed a motion for postconviction relief, which was granted by this court[4] following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller.[5] Mantich's life sentence for first degree murder was vacated and the cause was remanded for resentencing.

         Upon resentencing, a hearing was held. At that hearing, Mantich offered evidence, including the deposition of a neuropsychologist who testified ...

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