Should juveniles facing murder charges in Nebraska be able to be charged as adults?

Justice officials, advocates, families question state statute after 13-year-olds arrested as suspects in 13-year-old’s murder
Teenagers are facing murder charges in juvenile court, some families think it's not fair
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 5:44 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County Attorney and others have been expressing frustration recently about young accused killers.

Three Omaha teens are facing first-degree murder charges in two separate cases. All three suspects are just 13 years old.

State law forces all the cases for those ages 13 and younger to go to juvenile court — no exceptions. Some local prosecutors and families want that changed.

“Lenny was very loving, caring, sweet,” said Lenny Rodriguez’s aunt.

Lenny Rodriguez was an eighth-grader — just 13 years old — when he died after getting shot two months ago. Investigators say a stranger over the phone arranged a fight with him at Hanscom Park that evening.

“I don’t understand why. He didn’t know them,” Lenny’s aunt said.

In this case, two 13-year-olds have now been charged with first-degree murder.

But because they are 13, not 14, the case automatically goes to juvenile court, meaning, if found responsible, they are free and clear of the charges when they turn 19.

“We can’t really get justice for him. This is not justice. Charging him as a juvenile feels like a slap on the wrist for him.”

“It’s extremely troubling to be talking about charging 13-year-olds with first-degree murder in the death of a 13-year-old,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.

Kleine wants state lawmakers to change the law and give options, such as letting a judge decide if a case is heinous enough to be tried in adult court, or allowing the state to follow up or monitor the youngster when they turn 19 if it goes to juvenile court.

Besides the two 13-year-olds accused in the death of Lenny Rodriguez, investigators also arrested another 13-year-old for the murder of Alon Reed in August.

Investigators have said the 13-year-old stormed into the home at 52nd and Curtis streets looking for Reed and shot him point blank. Reed’s mother chased after the teen where the alleged get-away vehicle was parked.

That makes three 13-year-olds accused of murder — all of whom will be tried as juveniles.

“It seems that it might be taken advantage of in regards to certain groups who have young people carry on their business, knowing they can’t be prosecuted as an adult,” Kleine said.

“It’s not fair,” Lenny’s aunt said. “They get to live their life. Parents get to go see them. And we never get to see them in this life. He’s gone forever.”

In 2015, Omaha’s fugitive team traveled to Minnesota to arrest a 12-year-old for murder. The case ended up in the juvenile court system, designed to rehabilitate, not punish.

He’s 19 years old now, and 6 News checked court records: He’s currently in the Douglas County Jail on burglary, robbery, and parole violation charges.

But that’s just one case, and the juvenile court can still see success stories. The county attorney simply believes the age part of the equation should allow for discretion.