By Kaylie Ractliffe
Following his conviction of first-degree murder in the slaying of his cellmate at Tecumseh State Prison in April 2017, Patrick Schroeder was handed a death sentence last Friday.
Schroeder, 40, who was already serving a life sentence for the 2006 murder of a farmer in Pawnee City, told authorities that he choked his cellmate, Terry Berry, Jr., because Berry “wouldn’t stop” talking about a TV show.
The two inmates had been sharing a cell for five days before Schroeder said he “hit his threshold” and wrapped his arm around Berry’s neck to choke him, and then retrieved a towel to twist it around Berry’s neck until he was sure he was dead. Schroeder said he tried to alert prison staff, but no one responded until a routine check.
Berry, 22, who had lived in Steinauer and graduated from HTRS, was reportedly just days away from being released on parole after serving a sentence for check fraud and assaulting a county jailer.
Berry’s death was the fifth at Tecumseh State Prison in a two-year time period. It sparked backlash against prison officials and Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, as Berry’s family questioned why a convicted murderer serving a life sentence shared a cell with a significantly younger man serving a three- to four-year sentence for a lesser crime, and why they were double-bunked in a cell designed for the solitary confinement of one inmate.
The State Legislature’s Inspector General for Corrections said in a report that the two inmates were double-bunked as punishment for ignoring orders from prison staff.
Schroeder dismissed his attorneys and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony and chose not to fight against the death penalty and made no argument for why the judges shouldn’t sentence it.
On Friday, a three-judge panel consisting of District Judges Vicky Johnson, Robert Otte and John Marsh unanimously voted to sentence Schroeder to death. He will now join 11 other men on Nebraska’s death row. Schroeder also received 45 to 50 years in prison for the use of a weapon to commit a felony. His death sentence automatically generates an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, details of which were not yet available at the time of this report.