OMAHA, Neb. -- A Nebraska prisoner who convinced a judge to throw out his first-degree murder conviction and order his release will remain behind bars after the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling on Friday.
The decision was a win for prosecutors, who had to scramble to keep Jack Harris in prison after the district court judge's order last year. Harris is serving a life sentence for a 1995 shooting death of Anthony Jones during a drug robbery in Omaha.
Judge Jody Nelson ordered Harris' release in February 2019 after concluding that prosecutors violated his right to a speedy trial.
Harris, 49, had sought an appeal after a witness recanted and alleged that police intimidated him into testifying. Judge William Zastera granted Harris a new trial in September 2017 and soon retired.
The Nebraska attorney general’s office appealed, arguing that no evidentiary hearing was held. The case had been in limbo for months because no replacement judge was immediately appointed.
Judge Jodi Nelson took over the case in July. Nelson said Harris wasn’t tried within six months of Zastera’s order, in violation of his right to a speedy trial. Nelson also criticized the state for failing to take steps to move the case forward.
The state argued that prosecutors filed a motion to reconsider and an appeal, and that the time those motions were pending shouldn’t be counted as part of the speedy trial considerations.
In their ruling, Supreme Court justices concluded that Zastera's order to grant Harris a new trial was void.
“Harris cannot claim a right to (have his charges dismissed) for not being speedily tried when the order that purported to grand him a new trial was a nullity,” the justices said in their ruling.