DAKOTA CITY, Neb. -- Melecio Camacho-De Jesus has been found guilty of first-degree murder and not guilty of burglary in the May 23, 2009, slaying of 3-year-old Evelyn Verdugo Paniagua in her family's South Sioux City mobile home.
A six-man, six-woman jury returned the verdict late this afternoon following six days of testimony in Dakota County District Court. Lawyers for Camacho-De Jesus, 30, of Sioux City, presented an insanity defense.
A aggravation hearing is scheduled to begin Thursday morning. During the hearing jurors will determine whether alleged aggravating circumstances exist or do not exist.
Shortly after 2:30 p.m. jurors filed into the courtroom one by one. A middle-aged man with facial hair and a crew cut, identified himself as the foreperson. When asked by Judge William Binkard if a verdict had been reached, he responded with, "Yes, sir."
Evelyn's parents, Brisa Paniagua and Leonardo Verdugo, held hands with family members and friends seated beside them.
Camacho-De Jesus, dressed in a red long-sleeved shirt, slightly tilted his head back as Binkard read the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder, not guilty of burglary. Camacho-De Jesus looked at the jury box as Dakota County Clerk of District Court Valerie Danielson polled the jury, but remained expressionless.
When asked by Danielson if this was their verdict, each jury member stood and responded with "Yes," "Yes it is," or "Yes, ma'am."
Out of the jury's presence, defense attorney Todd Lancaster renewed motions to prevent an aggravation hearing from occurring and keep his client from possibly receiving the death penalty.
Lancaster argued that prosecutors should not be able to charge Melecio Camacho-De Jesus with a capital offense because the alleged crime occurred five days before Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill outlawing death by electrocution.
The new law replaces electrocution with lethal injection as Nebraska's sole form of executing death row inmates.
"At this time the state of Nebraska has no constitutional means to instate a death sentence," Lancaster told Binkard, who overruled the motion.
Outside the courthouse, Lancaster expressed disappointment in the verdict.
"I was hoping as long as the jury was deliberating they would come back with a different verdict," he said.
During Thursday's hearing, Lancaster said the state is expected to call a few witnesses, including doctors. Defense attorneys will also have an opportunity to present evidence, he said.
"It will be just like a brand new trial starting."