By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
ST. PAUL — A bill inspired by the struggles of a Blue Earth County family to wrest control of their kin’s property from his killer’s family was passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives Monday afternoon.
It was approved without controversy, 128 to 0, and is ready for a Senate vote.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, sponsored the bill after hearing the story of Leslie Nibbe Johnson, the sister of James Nibbe, who was killed on Aug. 31, 2010. His wife, Jennifer Nibbe, would eventually plead guilty to the killing in July of 2012. But James Nibbe’s family never got his mementos, including his golf clubs and clothes, from the Nibbe family.
Johnson testified at the Legislature earlier this year, and said James Nibbe’s brother, Jason, was going hunting and asked for some of James Nibbe’s duck decoys.
But Jennifer Nibbe’s father told him that the decoys became her property when James Nibbe was killed, Johnson testified.
Some pieces, she added, were burned.
Johnson asked lawmakers to “help me help other families in my brother’s name,” saying the law change “would’ve prevented added agony we were forced to go through.”
Cornish’s bill lets a judge step in and, after a spouse is charged with a killing, set aside property while a trial occurs.
As Cornish put it in a March hearing, it “allows the judge to say ‘Until this is all settled, the property isn’t going anywhere,’ so that families like the Nibbes could get back some of their property.”
Because criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty, defendents could still use their property or money with the judge’s permission.
The bill doesn’t have a hearing set in the Senate, but Cornish said Monday’s House action sets the bill up for consideration there.