CUSTER COUNTY— It was a full morning of criminal cases in Custer County District Court on Thursday, June 11 with a number of individuals being sentenced and arraigned.
Juan Colombe, 27 of Valentine, was arraigned on three alleged charges of 1st-degree assault (class II felony), escape (class IIA felony), and robbery (class II felony). Colombe pled not guilty to all three charges and the case was set for jury trial to begin on October 26 at 9 AM with a pre-trial hearing also being set on September 10 at 10 AM. If convicted of all charges, Colombe could face a minimum sentence of 2 years and a maximum of 120 years in prison.
Brice Carpenter, 25 of Merna, was arraigned following a plea deal where the habitual criminal enhancement would be dropped in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea to charges of abuse of a vulnerable adult (class IIIA felony) and possession of stolen property (class IV felony). Carpenter did plead no contest to the aforementioned charges and Judge Karin Noakes set the case for sentencing on July 16 at 10 AM.
The court also heard a second case where Carpenter was accused of violating his post-release supervision. A plea deal was also made in that case where if he admitted to the violations, charges in Custer County Court would be dismissed. Carpenter did admit to the violations and sentencing on the post-release supervision violations were set for July 16 at 10 AM.
Airen Popham, 36 of Broken Bow, appeared for arraignment on one alleged charge of distribution of methamphetamine (class II felony). While Popham could face up to 50 years in prison if convicted of the charge, Custer County Attorney Steve Bowers said that Popham was going to be accepted into the North Central Nebraska Problem Solving Court (drug court), but the probation office had not been able to get in contact with her. Judge Noakes set the case for a jury trial in October but also set a progression conference on June 18 at 10:45 AM as indications were that the jury trial would most likely not be needed.
Lavern Burnett, 66 of Broken Bow, will be headed to prison following his sentencing on Thursday. Burnett had taken a plea deal at a previous hearing and pled guilty to 3rd-degree sexual assault of a child (class IIIA felony). During arguments, Bowers said that this was a crime of opportunity as Burnett has had no prior convictions before this case was brought forward.
Bowers discussed the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report stating that there were a number of things in the report that were concerning to him. According to Bowers, Burnett has not taken responsibility for his actions and has instead blamed the 11-year old victim. Bowers also stated that Burnett told the probation office he would not abide by any of the conditions imposed if he were placed on probation including refraining from drinking. Bowers asked that Burnett be sentenced to three years in prison at the Nebraska Department of Corrections.
Burnett’s attorney Mark Porto did agree that probation would not be appropriate in this case, but that a lengthy prison sentence would also not be conducive either. Porto informed the court that Burnett helps support his girlfriend and that if Burnett is placed in prison for a long period of time she may not be able to pay bills. Porto asked the court to consider leniency and that he be sentenced to the county jail with authorization for work release.
Burnett was given the opportunity to make a statement to the court where he simply said, “I didn’t do anything.”
Judge Noakes stated that this is a very serious crime and she was concerned that Burnett was failing to take responsibility for his actions. She also stated that blaming the victim showed that he was in no way trying to understand the impact his actions would have on the victim and the family. Judge Noakes did say that other than this offense Burnett has led a law-abiding life, but the seriousness of the crime and failure to cooperate with probation did not make him a suitable candidate for probation.
Judge Noakes sentenced Burnett to be incarcerated at the Nebraska Dept. of Corrections for a term of two years while also being given credit for four days already served. Once Burnett is released, he will also have to serve 18 months of post-release supervision. Burnett was then remanded into the custody of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.
Mathew Brakhage, 20, was sentenced on two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor (class I misdemeanor) after he pled guilty at a previous hearing. During arguments, Bowers stated that in the previous sentencing the defendant had not taken responsibility, but with Brakhage, he had taken full responsibility and admitted that it was his fault. Bowers felt Brakhage was the perfect candidate for probation and asked he be sentenced to one year of probation.
Brakhage’s attorney, Chevas Shaw, also echoed what Bowers had said and that Brakhage had taken responsibility for his actions and has had no problems with the law over the year the case had been happening. Shaw also asked Judge Noakes to sentence his client to one year of probation.
Brakhage also briefly made a statement saying, “I apologize for my wrongdoings. It will not happen again.”
Judge Noakes stated she was glad he had taken responsibility and also said that he was being given a break and to prove everyone right that he was a positive member of society. Judge Noakes followed the recommendations of both attorneys and sentenced Brakhage to one year of probation on both charges to run concurrently.
Jason Chestnutt, 39 from Lincoln, made his appearance for sentencing after admitting to violating his probation after being sentenced previously for 3rd Degree Domestic Assault-2nd offense (class IIIA felony). During arguments, Bowers stated that during probation revocations it was rare to have a good PSI, but this was one of those rare times.
He stated that Chestnutt had really turned his life around since July 2019 by recognizing mental health problems and alcohol abuse. Bowers was also encouraged by the statement that was in the PSI where Chestnutt stated that he just, “I just want to be better.” Bowers asked that probation be extended for one year.
Chestnutt’s attorney, Michael Borders, stated that his client had really recognized the problems going on and was doing his best to get better. Borders stated that when Chestnutt had recognized the problems in his life he turned things around to better himself.
Judge Noakes stated that is was out of the ordinary for someone to get another chance at probation when they violated the probation by committing a violent crime. Judge Noakes said she was glad that Chestnutt had recognized his problems with alcohol and violence and that he was dealing with those issues. Judge Noakes extended Chestnutt’s probation through June 1, 2021, and to run concurrently with his four-year probation sentence out of Saunders County.