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Death penalty

There are villains and there are villains. 

Jose Sandoval stood in a Norfolk bank on Sept. 26, 2002, orchestrating death; murdering three people himself, abetting the killing of two more and terrorizing three others. In 40 seconds, he turned a would-be robbery into a homicidal frenzy.

He certainly rises to the top of the list for many Nebraskans — especially in northeast Nebraska — of the most heinous of villains. 

In 2003, Sandoval was found guilty of killing customer Evonne Tuttle, 37, of Stanton, and tellers Samuel Sun, 50, of Norfolk, and Jo Mausbach, 42, of Humphrey. He was also convicted of the murders of bank employees Lola Elwood, 43, and Lisa Bryant, 29, both of Norfolk. 

For those crimes, he was condemned to die. He also has two first-degree murder convictions for the unrelated deaths of a onetime roommate, 19-year-old Travis Lundell, and Lundell's friend, Robert Pearson Jr., for which he has life sentences.

Former state Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk on Friday called Sandoval a "supreme risk to human life," someone about whom you have doubts could be held safely in prison. 

"There's not many people locked up in the prison system that have seven murders on their record. ... He kills for sport." 

Many people say Sandoval's death sentence is the only just punishment for the cold-blooded, execution-style murders he committed. They remember him looking into a news camera and smiling, defiant, flashing a gang sign as he was led out of a courthouse after his capture.

They say it's about time the punishment is carried out, 15 years too late, in fact. 

Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes served notice to Sandoval on Thursday of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place. Sixty days following the notification, Attorney General Doug Peterson can request the state Supreme Court issue Sandoval's execution warrant. 

Those who are against the death penalty in Nebraska say he won't be executed any time soon. There are too many legal questions.

For Dave Mausbach, whose wife was killed by Sandoval, an execution would be 15 years too long in coming. He thinks about the senselessness of the crime, the money it has cost Madison County and the state to put on trial and to house the Norfolk killers, when there is no question about their guilt.

"They took a lot of innocent lives and ruined them. For what?" he said. 

He resents all that he, his family and others had to put up with during those trials. 

Jo Mausbach was a caring person and lived for their kids, he said. Her life was all about family. 

"She was easy to get along with. It was always about somebody else instead of her," he said. "She'd drop everything and help you with anything."

That day 15 years ago, he had to pull their two kids out of school and watch as they came out, excited, thinking it must mean they would be getting to do something special. And then the heartbreak of telling them their mother was dead, gunned down at work.

"That's something I'll never forget," he said.

He's fortunate though, he said, that in the ensuing years those two — Rebecca now 28 and Jacob, 24 — continued to be excellent students, never got in trouble, graduated, got college degrees and then good jobs. 

Sandoval's execution will bring him relief, he said.

"I'll feel a hell of a lot better, and I'm not a mean person," he said. "I hope I'm alive when this happens. It's what I'm waiting for."

Jo Mausbach's brother, Micheal Tichy, has a different take on the announcement that Sandoval has been served notice of his potential execution.

"To be honest with you I'm not a firm believer in the death penalty, even though what happened," he said in a phone call from his home in South Dakota. "If it does happen, well, he probably gets what he deserves."

He would rather have seen Sandoval's punishment be solitary confinement or hard labor for the rest of his life, he said.

With that said though, he does not appreciate hearing death penalty opponents talk about the inhumanity of Sandoval being a test subject for a never-used cocktail of lethal injection drugs.

"I'll tell you what. What was cruel and inhumane is my sister down on her hands and knees choking on her own blood," Tichy said. "That wasn't a very pretty picture. I saw it."

So did their mother, Ina Mae Tichy, who died this year.

"She was like a rock through the whole thing, and took care of us kids," he said. "She did not believe in the death penalty, either. But she would have accepted it." 

Joe Smith is the Madison County Attorney who prosecuted Sandoval, Erick Vela, Jorge Galindo and Gabriel Rodriguez, an accomplice also convicted of the five murders but given life sentences. 

In 2003, after a jury held Sandoval responsible for four aggravators in the deaths of all five victims at U.S. Bank, paving the way for the death sentence, Smith had said that people in Madison County won't ever get over what happened in that bank. 

Smith looks at the notification Thursday of Sandoval's impending execution as potentially the first step in the last part of a long process. 

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"It's something that I'm sure nobody is excited about. On the other hand, it's about time the process got off stall," he said. 

Flood, as speaker of the Legislature from 2007-2013, presided over multiple death penalty-related debates. Everytime he would rise to speak in support of the death penalty, he would talk about the Norfolk bank killings.

As a reporter for his radio station, he was also on the scene of the murders that September day.

"What happened on that day was pure evil. Unconscionable," he said. 

And then, Sandoval, Vela and Galindo were cold and indifferent at their trials, he said. Those jury panels were made up of teachers, farmers and pastors that had to listen to weeks of testimony about what occurred inside the bank. They had to decide the mitigating and aggravating factors to recommend whether the death penalty was appropriate. 

"The justice system in Madison County has invested quite a bit, not just dollar-wise, more importantly though the human capital that went in to rendering a just verdict," he said.

Flood's Norfolk radio station US92 posted a story Thursday about the death penalty notification. Most of the more than 40 comments went like Cindy Mathis Clyde's:

"It's about time. They all need to go."

Lincoln attorney Bob Evnen was a spokesman for death penalty proponents during a campaign to overturn the Nebraska Legislature's elimination of the death penalty, and is now a candidate for Nebraska secretary of state. He has studied capital punishment, researched death row cases and appeals, and pondered the arguments. 

It's not something anyone should take pleasure in, Evnen said. The best thing would have been if the crime had never been committed in the first place.

"But the punishment that he is receiving is a just one. And it's in accordance with what the people of the state of Nebraska have voted to retain, and rightly so."

Rachel Pokora, a Lincoln college professor, remembers meeting Sandoval in 2008 on two visits to the prison as a member of Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty. He was one of the more interesting people on those visits, she said.

"Of all the other people I talked to, a lot of them were maybe not as bright, but it also then really scared me because I thought, 'He knows what he's doing.'"  

Shortly after that visit, she had said it stuck in her mind what he had said to her. 

I'm a very bad man, he told her. I'm the worst man you've ever met.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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