STANTON — Both a Fremont man who broke into a residence last August and stole more than $3,500 worth of collectibles and a West Point woman who assisted him will spend time behind bars.

District Judge James Kube sentenced 35-year-old Carl Epley Jr. to 5 to 7 years in prison for convictions of possession of a firearm by a felon and theft by unlawful taking. Epley was sentenced to 4 to 6 years for the firearm conviction and 1 year for theft. Jennifer Oswald, 41, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for one count of theft.

As part of a plea deal completed on June 6, the Stanton County Attorney’s Office dismissed a burglary charge against Epley and agreed to recommend a 3-year prison term.

The charges against the pair resulted from an investigation by the Stanton County Sheriff’s Office into an Aug. 29, 2021, break-in at a residence south of Pilger.

The sheriff’s office began investigating the burglary after it was reported on Oct. 24 and determined that Epley and Oswald were suspects.

On Nov. 3, authorities interviewed Oswald and, after first opting not to be forthcoming, Oswald admitted that she and Epley unlawfully entered the residence. Numerous items were taken, including a safe, a large quantity of coins, pocket watches, three long-barrel firearms, a World War II sword, peace pipe, figurines, leather bomber jacket and more.

In total, more than $3,500 worth of collectibles were stolen from the residence, and Epley admitted to selling some of the items to buyers in the Fremont area.

In the presentence investigation report, Epley admitted to previously entering abandoned houses and looking for stuff. And what Kube took issue with was the fact that the residence Epley and Oswald burglarized was not an abandoned one.

Epley said he regretted the decision to break in and steal the various items.

“It was just a dumb decision,” he said. “I was not in the right state of mind. I saw this opportunity, and this was a dumb choice.”

The Fremont man said he had used meth for most of the last 10 years — something that clouded his ability to make good decisions and contributed to his crimes.

Mike Moyer, Epley’s attorney, said Epley has a nonviolent criminal history and a solid support system, factors that Moyer said would help Epley not return to a life of drugs.

The defense attorney asked Kube to sentence Epley to probation and, if not, follow prosecutors’ recommendation of 3 years in prison and not exceed that length.

Kube told Epley that probation didn’t work for him in the past, and he has since resorted to burglarizing homes, an act that the judge said could strike lifelong fear in someone.

“One of the most terrorizing things that can happen to a person is for their home to be burglarized,” the judge said. “You may not realize it, but that’s something that stays with a person for a long, long time, if not for their whole life.

“When a person comes home and sees someone has been in their home, has violated them in that way, has taken things from their home, it's a very traumatic thing that happens.”

Kube said he understood that an underlying factor in the burglary was Epley’s drug use, but that Epley’s addiction was not an excuse.

“You’ve had an opportunity to get help, whether it's through probation or on your own, and you haven't done it,” Kube said. “Now you’re asking the court for probation so we can help you with your addiction issue. And normally, I’m pretty amenable to that, but not when it’s associated with a theft, particularly when it’s a burglary and you enter someone's home.”

The weapon charge is a Class 1D felony where, if a judge imposes incarceration instead of probation, there is a mandatory minimum of 3 years in prison. So Epley must serve 4 years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole and 5½ years before he qualifies for mandatory release. He was given credit for 186 days served.

OSWALD TOLD Kube that she was sleeping in a vehicle as a passenger while Epley was following. Epley made the decision to break into the residence and steal the items, she said.

The West Point woman said she went into the residence only to use the bathroom and that Epley called on her to help load items into the vehicle when she came inside. Oswald said she was scared and decided to help Epley move the items out of the residence and into the vehicle.

Oswald told Kube she wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the burglary.

Brad Ewalt, Oswald’s attorney, said he didn’t know what led to the incident, but that Oswald was scared and decided to go along with what Epley was doing instead of upsetting him.

“She asked him to stop and not to (steal things), but he wasn’t willing to do that,” Ewalt said. “I don’t know what the nature of their relationship was — I don’t know if it was difficult or toxic — but I get the impression that it was toxic based on what happened here.”

Ewalt asked Kube to sentence Oswald to probation, arguing that she had shown remorse for what happened and that she didn’t have any serious issues with alcohol or drugs.

Kube told Oswald he didn’t believe her account that she was sleeping in the vehicle and didn’t know that Epley was going to break into the residence and steal stuff.

“I think it's a very easy story to sit here and tell me that you were sleeping, you woke up and he was already in the house,” the judge said.

Kube said he was surprised that Oswald helped Epley.

“The fact that you don't have any prior criminal history and you don't use any controlled substances tells me that you’re smart and you know right from wrong,” he said. “You knew what you were supposed to be doing and felt uncomfortable that you were in there but decided to do it anyway.

“If you know someone is doing something wrong — I don't care if you’re in a relationship with them — you get out of that situation.”

With good behavior, Oswald must serve 60 days in jail. She did not receive any credit for time already served. Kube also fined her $500.

Others appeared Monday on the following charges:

First-degree sexual assault — three counts, intentional child abuse

— Adam E. Reese, 35, Stanton, had a motion to continue his pretrial and trial sustained.

— Jeffrey T. Olsufka Jr., 37, Norfolk, had a motion to continue his pretrial sustained.

Driving under the influence — third offense

— Mark D. Plueger, 62, Stanton, pleaded guilty.

Possession of psilocybin, driving during revocation, no valid registration

— Christopher D. Mueller, 31, Hastings, pleaded guilty to each charge.

Possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia

— Keriann K. Denney, 31, 207 W. Norfolk Ave., Apt. 1, pleaded not guilty to each charge.

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