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