After Omaha murder case crumbles, lawmaker calls for tougher penalties for witness tampering

By noon Wednesday, State Sen. Justin Wayne had received a handful of phone calls from constituents disheartened by the dismissal of murder charges against the man accused of killing decorated Army Sgt. Kyle LeFlore.

By shortly after noon, he had a proposal he hopes will help patch a justice system that he says effectively rewards defendants for intimidating witnesses of such crimes.

Wayne said he will introduce legislation next session to increase the penalty for witness tampering to the equivalent of the underlying crime. As it is now, any defendant who tries to influence a witness faces the lowest possible felony and one year in prison.

Wayne said bolstering the penalty was one logical step he could take after a witness backed out of her account tying Larry Goynes to the January slaying of LeFlore outside the Reign Lounge near 30th Street and Interstate 680 in Omaha. Prosecutors allege that two people — including Goynes’ aunt — had attempted to intimidate the 36-year-old woman, who eventually declined to testify. Read More.

Judge throws out Nebraska rape case over recorded attorney-client calls

The 56-year-old registered sex offender spent the past 18 months in the Red Cloud jail, staring at a possible life sentence on charges that he violently raped a 15-year-old girl.

On Friday, he walked out a free man.

Webster County District Judge Stephen Illingworth dismissed the felony and misdemeanor sexual assault and child abuse charges not because new evidence cleared the accused. Rather, the judge said the state’s case was fatally tainted by recordings of jail phone calls between the defendant and his lawyer that were obtained by the lead criminal investigator.

Just as troubling, the judge said, were videotaped statements of Webster County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dianne Nichols saying she was “skirting a few things” to take down an accused rapist.

“The court finds that dismissal of the charges is the appropriate remedy for Sgt. Nichols’ deliberate intrusion into the attorney-client relationship,” the judge said in his order. “It will chill and strongly discourage future intrusions of this fundamental constitutional right.”

In addition, the judge said: “To rule otherwise would send the wrong message to law enforcement.”

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, whose office was assisting in the prosecution of the case, said Friday that the ruling was being evaluated for potential appeal. Read More 





Just a text away: ‘Sextortion’ cases skyrocket as smartphone access increases among children

Posing as a young woman on Facebook, a 26-year-old man from Lincoln duped five teenage boys from Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa into sharing explicit photos and videos of themselves.

In another recent case, after meeting a 12-year-old Georgia girl on the smartphone game Clash of Clans, a 37-year-old man from Omaha convinced the girl to send him nude photos of herself. He claimed he was 18.

And in a third case, nude photos a teenage Nebraska girl sent to an adult were traded and used as leverage to get her to send more to another man.

Online child-exploitation cases like these are signs of a new age, in which pedophiles have unprecedented access to children, says Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. Cory Townsend, who heads the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force. Read More. 

Man charged in Nebraska rape case could go free after his calls to his lawyer were recorded

HASTINGS, Neb. — The young woman told a story of a rape so brutal it would motivate any criminal investigator to act.

Visiting family in Red Cloud, Nebraska, five years ago when she was 15, the Colorado woman said an older male relative got her drunk and forced her to shower with one of his children as he watched. Then he handcuffed her to a bedpost and “attacked her private parts” until she passed out, according to court records.

After coming to, she realized that she had suffered a vaginal tear that “hurt and was bleeding.” The girl, described by her mother as having an intellectual disability and mental illness, was left with a scar running to her inner thigh.

Later, during a videotaped interview of a witness in the case, Webster County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dianne Nichols said: “I’m bound and determined to take the little f—– down,” referring to the perpetrator.

“That’s why I’m kind of skirting a few things this time,” the sergeant added a bit later in the interview.

A District Court judge must soon decide if “skirting a few things” may have included listening to recorded phone calls the man placed from jail to his lawyer. Read More. 





Proposed $120 million Douglas County justice complex would shrink youth detention center, raise taxes

A proposal for a new Douglas County Juvenile Court, office and youth detention complex received a warm welcome from the Douglas County Board on Tuesday in its debut appearance in public.

Six County Board members spoke favorably about the $120 million proposal, though they stopped short of saying how they will vote when it comes down to deciding whether to increase property taxes to pay for it.

Board member Mary Ann Borgeson, who has championed the project and worked on a committee shaping it, said the new complex would improve juvenile and family justice. She said she hopes people focus on how it will affect families and not only on cost. Read More.

Supreme Court says police generally need warrant to track cellphone locations

WASHINGTON — In a victory for privacy in the digital era, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Constitution protects tracking data from a cellphone, requiring police to have a search warrant to obtain cell tower records that show a person’s movement for days or weeks.

The justices, in a 5-4 decision, said the Fourth Amendment protects the data from being searched without a warrant, even though these records are collected and held by a private company, not the government. Read More. 





Breath-test issue prompts questions about DUIs in Lincoln, elsewhere in Nebraska

Apr 24, 2018

A certification issue with the breath tests used on suspected drunk drivers across Nebraska has led several counties, including Lancaster, to pursue blood samples in all DUI cases.

The issue — which applies to breath tests given in jail and at detox, not the preliminary tests used by officers on the street — has temporarily complicated Lincoln-area drunk-driving investigations and made them more invasive.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys across the state have been digging into how the certification issue might affect their clients and examining ways to challenge previous breath-test samples.

Jurors put emotions aside, find man guilty of assisting in girlfriend’s suicide

By Paul Hammel / World-Herald staff writer

In the end, it was about the law, not “agape” love or whether a Weeping Water man was justified in assisting the suicide of a girlfriend who insisted, falsely it turns out, that she was about to die from cancer.

On Friday, after hearing more than two days of testimony , a jury took less than three hours to find Matthew Stubbendieck guilty of assisting in the suicide of his girlfriend last summer.

Stubbendieck, 42, betrayed no emotion as the verdict was read or when he exited the courtroom.

He now faces up to two years in prison





Project Harmony, Omaha’s nationally known child-abuse agency, keeps upping its game

Omaha’s nationally recognized Project Harmony is expanding its efforts against child abuse and welcoming a stronger police presence.

For the first time, the Omaha Police Department has assigned a captain to work at the agency. She will oversee a staff, already there, of 32 full-time sworn officers and several others.

“We’re thrilled,” said Gene Klein, executive director of the nonprofit Project Harmony. “This is significant news for us, and we think it says so much about the Police Department’s commitment to protecting children.”