LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that a lower court was right in its decision to dismiss a DNA proceeding in the appeal of a 42-year-old man convicted of murdering a North Platte woman in 1998.
Jay D. Amaya, who pleaded no contest to multiple charges in the case and received a life sentence, sought relief in 2017 under the DNA Testing Act. He requested testing of four pieces of evidence related to the death of 20-year-old Sheri Fhuere.
After receiving the DNA results, prosecutors moved to dismiss the proceeding as it was argued that the results neither exonerated or exculpate Amaya. Lincoln County District Judge Michael E. Piccolo granted the motion on Jan. 25, 2019, and the decision was upheld by the higher court.
Judge Stephanie F. Stacy wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion, “The district court’s factual findings were not clearly erroneous, and it did not abuse its discretion in granting the State’s motion to dismiss. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.”
Judge John R. Freudenberg did not participate in the Supreme Court ruling.
Amaya had claimed that the DNA results entitled him to relief and he asked the court to either vacate his convictions and release him, allow him to withdraw his no-contest pleas and proceed to trial, or resentence him on the same convictions.
Fhuere was found dead in her North Platte residence on July 16, 1998. She had been raped, beaten, and her throat was slashed. When police arrived, they found Michael E. Long attempting to resuscitate her. Long told police that he and Amaya had beaten Fhuere and that Amaya had slashed her throat.
In a plea agreement, Long agreed to testify against Amaya in exchange for reduced charges.
Amaya pleaded no contest to first-degree murder, sexual assault and use of a deadly weapon in exchange for the state’s agreement not to seek the death penalty.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Nov. 19, 1999.
Amaya based his DNA appeal on four pieces of evidence — a bite mark on Fhuere’s thigh, the handle of the knife allegedly used to slash Fhuere’s throat, the mouth area of a beer bottle in which the knife was allegedly stored for disposal and the mouth area of a beer bottle found on the front porch of Fhuere’s home.
According to court documents, all of the DNA test results generated a profile consistent with a mixture of two individuals. Results from the bite mark showed the major DNA profile matched Amaya.
Friday marked the third time that the Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling on Amaya.
In 2006, Amaya filed a motion for post-conviction relief. He claimed that his counsel was ineffective. The Lincoln County District Court denied relief and the Supreme Court upheld that decision.
On Sept. 2, 2016, Amaya filed a “successive verified motion for post-conviction relief” with the district court
In the motion, he acknowledged that he was past the time frame allowed for filing such motions, but said he believed an exception should be made for several reasons, including the fact that the statute that limits the time frame was passed after his crime.
The district court denied the motion on Sept. 7, 2016, without an evidentiary hearing or a requested response from the state. The court found that Amaya’s claims had been taken care of the first time he appealed and that the filing was “completely frivolous,” according to the ruling.
On Sept. 26, 2016, Amaya filed another motion, this time to alter the Sept. 7 judgment, but the motion was denied because it was filed more than 10 days after the ruling.
It prompted Amaya to file the appeal with the Nebraska Supreme Court, which upheld the decision made by the district court.