court assessed
court assessed

Legal office that provides defense for high-profile crimes in Nebraska faces dwindling money source

Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing four people last summer in the small northeastern Nebraska community of Laurel.

Jason Jones, 42, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the August killings the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said would justify a death sentence.

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Jones, who investigators say shot and killed Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85, Dana Twiford, 55, and Michele Ebeling, 53, is being represented by the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy in the case.

Created in 1995 to provide criminal defense services for high-profile cases including first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury or death, sexual assault, robbery, or kidnapping, the commission has a two-fold mission.

First, it creates a stable of defense attorneys capable of ensuring defendants’ constitutional rights to legal counsel and a fair trial are protected in areas of the Cornhusker state where there may not be any other attorneys qualified to do so.

Second, the commission reduces the cost to rural counties and thereby lessens the impact on property taxpayers.

A combination of factors in recent years — the switch from general funds to a court-assessed fee and declining numbers of case filings across the state — has put financial strain on the commission’s ability to meet the needs throughout the state, however.

Jeff Pickens, chief counsel for the commission, said fewer case filings have meant a $540,000 drop in revenue between the 2008-09 fiscal year budget ($1.2 million) and the 2021-22 fiscal year budget ($747,000).

At the same time, in order to continue providing criminal defense services across the state the commission has had to dip into an emergency cash fund to cover expenses every year since 2014-15.

Pickens said the cash fund had a little more

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