It’s Michael Petersen’s second life sentence. He was sentenced to life without parole in Buffalo County for the murder of his ex-wife Nancy Petersen.
Tuesday, family and colleagues of Elsbernd gathered at the Hall County Courthouse to hear Petersen’s final sentencing. It came after a lengthy explanation from Petersen’s attorney on what led to the killings.
Jeffery A. Pickens called Petersen “Mike” as he told the judge that his client was still bitter over losing money in his divorce to his ex-wife, who he said Petersen still loved.
His anger continued to grow after losing $140,000 to two separate women in a dating website scam.
Pickens, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, said Petersen worked 10 to 12 hour days and then returned to a concrete bunker near Glenvil, where he became increasingly isolated.
Pickens told Buffalo County Judge John Icenogle that Petersen is a good man that had reached his breaking point and was “done getting screwed over.”
Showing no remorse, Petersen himself told the judge the justice system is not fair. He spoke quickly as he launched into a speech about premarital versus marital asset paperwork and the professional negligence of his victim. Petersen did not speak about the shootings.
Petersen had filed several grievances and appeals against Elsbernd, but all were dismissed.
“None of those will ever be reasons to take a human life in such a cowardly fashion,” Hall County Attorney Mark Young told the judge.
Young described how Petersen picked a hunting rifle from his extensive weapons collection before killing Nancy Petersen in Kearney. Young said Petersen then drove home to switch vehicles before driving to Grand Island to wait for Elsbernd to get off work. The 52-year-old attorney was shot outside his law firm in downtown G.I. on November 13, 2013.
Petersen pleaded no contest to first-degree murder as part of a plea deal where the state agreed not to seek the death penalty.
Young said, with the uncertainty of capital punishment in the state of Nebraska, he felt life in prison was a guaranteed way to keep Petersen off the streets.
“This guy absolutely deserves the death penalty,” said Young. "This is a guy, the more I worked on the case, the more I got to know a little bit about how he was behaving in jail and what not, I want him rotting. I want him sitting in a cell forever.”
Young knew Elsbernd, but said any murder case is difficult.
“Any time you take a life, I'm going to get pretty fired up; and then when their justification for this very deliberate, scary kind of abuse murder is so farcical, I'm going to be coming after you," he said. “Particularly given his complete lack of any sort of remorse or acceptance that what he did was wrong, a guy like this should never be on the street.”
Young said because Elsbernd was a member of G.I.’s legal community and the Grand Island Public School Board and a supporter of youth baseball, this case has been harder on the community than many others.
“I think for the public, it’s really a different thing for somebody who’s so involved in the community. His kids and family are so integrated in the community, it brings home how fragile and precious life is,” he said.