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Woman convicted in 1998 Bellevue slaying dies in prison at 40
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Woman convicted in 1998 Bellevue slaying dies in prison at 40

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A woman serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old Scott Catenacci died Friday in prison.

Niccole Wetherell, 40, died at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York. Her cause of death has not yet been determined, but she was being treated for a medical condition, according to the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

As is the case whenever an inmate dies, a grand jury will conduct an investigation.

Niccole Wetherell

Wetherell

Wetherell was among six people ages 16 to 20 involved in the murder of Catenacci, who was stabbed at least 57 times in a Bellevue park.

Authorities initially said Catenacci was killed because he roughed up Wetherell during group sex, but prosecutors later dismissed that motive, saying the teenagers were infatuated with the thrill of the kill. They had talked of killing others but turned their attention to Catenacci.

Wetherell could have been sentenced to death. Speaking on behalf of a three-judge panel, Sarpy County District Judge Ronald Reagan said at the time that the killers were too young and too criminally inexperienced and that the killing wasn’t heinous enough to merit the death penalty.

Wetherell was 18 at the time of the murder, and in 2014, she appealed her life sentence, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Acting as her own attorney, Wetherell said she deserved to be resentenced, even though the Supreme Court ruling, and a subsequent law passed by the Nebraska Legislature, defined minors as those “under the age of 18.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected her argument. It pointed out that in 2005, it ruled that even though the “general” legal definition of a minor is a person under 19, statutes can specify another age.

Wetherell also made headlines when she and Paul Gillpatrick, a man incarcerated in the State Penitentiary in Lincoln, filed a lawsuit against the state for the right to marry.

The couple won their suit in 2016, but the State Supreme Court reversed that decision.

They then fought their case in federal court, where U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter ruled in their favor in 2019.

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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Jessica Wade covers breaking news, crime and the Omaha zoo. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Wade_OWH. Phone: 402-444-1067

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