Court bench NDN

MADISON — The second teenage girl convicted of first-degree assault for her role in a February beating was ordered Monday to spend an undetermined amount of time at a youth rehabilitation center.

The girl, age 15, is being referred to as Defendant 2 because of her minor status. After about two hours of witness testimony, including from the victim, Defendant 2 was ordered by Judge Michael Long to be transported to one of Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) facilities.

Defendant 2 had admitted to committing first-degree assault, a Class 2 felony, on Aug. 16. Nathan Eckstrom, deputy Madison County attorney, filed a motion on Oct. 13 for Defendant 2 to be committed to YRTC, which he had also done in Defendant 1’s case.

In court Monday, Eckstrom called four witnesses to the stand, including the victim of the assault, who was 14 at the time she was attacked.

The girl, who did not testify at Defendant 1’s disposition hearing, was hesitant to offer testimony on Monday but was able to detail what she’s felt since the night she was attacked.

“I was in a lot of pain, I was anxious and I didn’t want to see other people after that,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone get beaten up the way I was. … It scares me.”

Defendant 2 had been allowed to return to school this fall under the requirement to follow bond conditions. The victim said she had seen Defendant 2 in the school hallways on multiple occasions, which she said made her feel “scared and nervous.”

The girl testified that Defendant 2 had made a series of threatening comments in passing at school during the past two months.

A few weeks after the school year had begun, the victim said, Defendant 2 had been outside a bathroom when she called the victim and one of the victim’s friends “(expletive) snitches.”

In another incident, the girl testified, Defendant 2 had been nearby in a school hallway and told one of her friends, “I’m not afraid to beat her (behind),” in reference to the victim.

“It made me scared for me and my friend because I don’t want that to happen to her or anyone else,” she said.

The victim said she would feel safer if Defendant 2 was committed to YRTC.

The victim’s grandfather, who has legal guardianship of the victim, testified at Monday’s disposition hearing. He also had testified at Defendant 1’s disposition hearing in September.

The girl’s grandfather said his granddaughter has become “more stressed and irritated” since the attack. She also still has headaches severe enough that she has to turn the lights off and leave a room, he said.

He also testified that the victim had endured significant anxiety since the attack, prompting him to take her to a doctor. She had been prescribed anxiety medication, he said, but the family is considering taking the girl to a therapist for additional treatment.

The victim’s grandfather said that what happened to his granddaughter made him feel like he failed as her protector.

“Since they’ve been born and especially since I’ve been provided guardianship, I take seriously my duty to keep all four of them protected,” he said. “When it hit me that I couldn't protect her from something like this, it was a kick in the gut. I was supposed to protect her, and I couldn’t.”

Carey Hopkins, Madison County’s juvenile accountability officer, also was called to the stand by Eckstrom. Hopkins said that while Defendant 2 was under her supervision, she had five positive nicotine tests. Each of those tests came after the February assault.

Hopkins also testified that Defendant 2 has had school attendance issues. She had missed 92 class periods since the beginning of the school year, Hopkins said, although some of those absences were attributed to a COVID-related absence.

Furthermore, there were minor issues with Defendant 2 crossing physical boundaries while she was on house arrest, plus a number of curfew violations.

Eckstrom also alleged that evidence suggested that Defendant 2 had recently asked another juvenile who was on probation for alcohol.

“It’s very concerning that when court proceedings started, she wasn’t able to follow the court’s conditions,” Eckstrom said. “The juvenile knew (YRTC) was on the table and should have done everything she could do to avoid being committed.”

Brad Ewalt, Defendant 2’s attorney, argued that Defendant 2’s school attendance had improved, and she had “made efforts” in catching up on schoolwork.

Ewalt argued that all community-related treatment options, such as intensive family preservation therapy and multisystemic therapy, haven’t been exhausted.

“Generally, YRTC is considered a last resort. She has not officially been placed on probation,” he said. “She’s been improving on various things, and there’s no reason to believe she can’t be safely and effectively supervised in the community.”

Eckstrom played two videos of the minute-long attack in court on Monday, just as he did during Defendant 1’s disposition hearing. Defendant 2 looked down and plugged her ears through the duration of the videos.

Defendant 2’s mother testified that her daughter’s actions were “out of body.”

“She just knows that she would have never done anything like that before,” she said. “That’s not my daughter in (the video) because she’s never done anything like that or even spoken to anyone like that.”

The girl’s mother said she knew her daughter committed the assault, but that she was under the influence of drugs that night and “wasn’t in her right mind.”

Both co-defendants’ attorneys had previously admitted that their clients had taken LSD before the attack.

Defendant 2 told Long she was sorry for what she had done.

“I do regret what I did, and I’m very sorry for it,” she said.

Long, before sentencing Defendant 2, said he had seen the pair of attack videos twice and called them “disturbing.”

“I wince at the kicking. I’ve seen a lot in my day, and it still makes me wince when I see it,” Long said.

The judge said Defendant 2’s inability to follow the conditions of her bond release was a sign that probation wouldn’t be the best disposition option.

Particularly disturbing, he said, were the comments the victim said Defendant 2 made in school over the past two months.

“I saw the victim testify in front of me today; she was under oath,” Long said. “And I find her absolutely believable.”

Long told Defendant 2 that had she been convicted of first-degree assault as an adult in Madison County, there would be a good chance she’d be going to prison. He asked Defendant 2 to use YRTC as an opportunity to grow and “put this behind you.”

“Your whole life is in front of you. You can make all kinds of changes,” the judge said. “As far as I’m concerned, we can’t undo what happened. What’s important is what we do from here on out.”

Defendant 2 will be housed at a YRTC facility until “age of majority,” which means any term she serves at said facility must expire when she is an adult.