During her time serving as Butler County Attorney, Julie Reiter has prosecuted numerous cases for the State of Nebraska.
But, the incident involving 53-year-old Schuyler resident Shawn Howell, who allegedly threatened harm to three public officials in Butler, Colfax and Platte counties, presents a first for the attorney: She’s never handled a case where a seated judge was forced to recuse himself or herself as a result of the allegations.
Howell, who recently pleaded and was found guilty on the amended charge of attempting to be a prohibited person in possession of a firearm in Colfax County, is scheduled in that county’s district court before Judge Christina Marroquin at 1 p.m. Feb. 19. That’s in connection to his alleged involvement in an October 2019 shooting in rural Schuyler that resulted in two men being hospitalized after sustaining what appeared to be wounds from shotgun blasts.
The Colfax County charge is a Class II felony, which is punishable by up to 50 years imprisonment. While being held in Butler County Jail – Colfax County doesn’t have a jail facility – Howell reportedly made expletive-laced threats toward Butler County Court Judge C. Jo Petersen, Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl and Platte County Deputy Attorney Elizabeth Lay.
“I cannot recall a time where a judge has recused themselves because of threats made toward them,” said Reiter, who took her current position in 2007.
In relation to Petersen, Howell reportedly made numerous threats while having a visitation at the jail with his wife. During the conversation, court records show Howell mentioned how at one point in time, he had the judge in the scope of his rifle.
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Making terroristic threats is a Class IIIA felony, punishable by up to three years imprisonment and 18 months of post-release supervision. Reiter noted the severity of the offenses directed at the defendant.
“Terroristic threats are serious charges,” Reiter said. “And I don’t think there’s ever any kind of run-of-the-mill terroristic threat. You have to take a case-by-case look at the circumstances, and the evidence, in this case, is very serious.”
The case is also unique, she said, in the fact that the defendant previously faced felony charges in a three-county radius prior to a global agreement recently being made between Platte and Colfax Counties that resulted in the Platte cases being dropped and the case files being sealed.
“Basically, what happens is, any crime that is committed within a certain county must be prosecuted inside that county,” Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl previously said. “… When a person commits numerous crimes in different counties, each county is in charge of prosecuting their own case; however, prosecutors can actually work together and offer what we typically call a global plea agreement.
“The reason why we call it that is because it either encompasses several cases or cases across county lines. In fact, we can also do it from the state to federal level, as well; the state can agree to dismiss state charges if someone pleas in federal court, or vice versa."
Howell is now scheduled to appear before Judge Marroquin at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 for arraignment in Butler County District Court.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com.