Three men now face murder charges in federal court for the July home-invasion killing of Jessica Brandon in her north Lincoln home, according to documents unsealed Friday afternoon.
Tawhyne Patterson, Damon Williams and his brother Dante Williams are accused of use of a firearm resulting in murder during the course of a crime of violence in criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln under seal Thursday.
At brief court appearances Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods told them the penalty range goes up to life sentences, but that it's also an offense that's eligible for the death penalty.
"The United States is still determining whether that will be sought in this case," she told Patterson at the first of the three hearings.
She explained the same to the brothers.
In the last appearance, Dante Williams sat silently at the start, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart asking him if he was exercising his right to remain silent or simply choosing not to answer questions.
"The spirit is strong," he said, then nodded when asked if he understood his right to remain silent.
The three men had been charged in state court with first-degree murder until Friday, when the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office asked to drop those charges in light of the new federal charges.
Additional details about the rare decision to prosecute a murder in federal court weren’t immediately available. And the criminal complaint and affidavit detailing the case remained under seal by Zwart.
In August, Lincoln police described what led up to Brandon's killing as a violent, drug-related robbery.
Police said three men, caught on video surveillance cameras, had forced their way into the north Lincoln home Brandon shared with her fiance, Mike Robertson, at 1950 Fairfield St. in the early morning of July 31.
Police said the men fired several shots before running outside three minutes later, the 36-year-old woman hit once in the shoulder and dying.
Investigators haven't said which of the men they believe shot Brandon, but in an affidavit for their arrests, said informants identified the intruders on the video as the Williams brothers and said the third resembled Patterson.
Police also said cellphone tower records put Dante Williams in the area of his brother’s Lincoln home, as well as Brandon’s home, the night of the killing.
After the shooting, police said they found close to 3 pounds of marijuana and $85,000 cash, which they believed belonged to Robertson. He now faces state drug charges.
In court records, investigators said they learned Patterson had been short on money after bailing out of jail on another charge and heard there was $250,000 at the home in Lincoln's Belmont neighborhood.
In August, police arrested Patterson and Damon Williams in Belton, Texas, and Dante Williams in Omaha.
Zwart ordered each to be held without bond.