BROKEN BOW— Jonathon Berghorst has been found guilty of 3rd-degree assault and guilty of oppression under color of office in Custer County Court. The jury of six went into deliberation at around 11:35 A.M. on Thursday, January 30 after two days of witness testimony and evidence. Judge Tami Schednt informed the jury during instructions that any guilty verdict must be unanimous.
The jury reached their verdicts at approximately 10:45 AM on Friday, January 31.
Day two of the trial began at 9 AM on Thursday, January 30 with the defense calling witnesses to testify on what they saw the night of the assault. Dustin Marten began testimony by saying that he heard Riley Royle and Berghorst agreed to “spar” in the back alley. He claimed that Berghorst hit Royle two to three times, but was on the top and side of his head and that no one hit Royle when he was on the ground.
The state, represented by Gail VerMaas, had asked Marten about conflicting details between what he had told police officers and what was said to Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Jeffrey Van Stelton. Marten admitted that he had lied to the officers because he did not want them to think he was in a fight. He also noted that some of the minor details may have been forgotten due to the incident having taken place in April 2019.
Jenna Duda also testified that she had to separate Berghorst and Royle on the west side of Legends Neighborhood Grill because she claimed Royle was “antagonizing” Berghorst. Duda noted that she did not witness the fight, but had only witnessed the group coming down the sidewalk after the incident. She did inform the jury that she did not see any blood or bruises on Royle but did see a tear on his shirt around the collar.
Jacob Ross briefly testified to the incident and also said that he believed the fight was to be a friendly fight as the pair had shaken hands. He said that he saw Berghorst knockdown Royle the second time, but the pair shook hands after Royle said he was done fighting. Ross also noted that he asked Royle if he was okay following the fight, where Royle said his eye hurt, but Ross noted he didn’t see any blood or bruises.
When questioned by the state, Ross did say that one of the next times he saw Royle and Berghorst together, they were yelling at each other by the door and were chest to chest before Jenna Duda separated the pair.
During closing arguments, Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Zackary Blackman told the jury this was a drunken bar fight that escalated. Blackman told the jury that all of the information is clear in that there was a fight and the evidence shows that Royle was injured. He also noted that it doesn’t matter if there was an agreement because it is illegal to fight under Nebraska law.
When talking about the oppression charge, Blackman said that Berghorst used his position of power to try and end the investigation. Blackman also noted that the officers were well within their job duties to conduct the investigation to preserve any possible evidence.
Berghorst’s attorney, Christopher Wickham, made his closing statement that the two agreed to fight after a night of drinking and that Royle’s story was changed and made up because he may have been embarrassed by what happened in the alley.
Wickham also talked about how the officers were the ones that escalated the situation at Berghorst’s residence by saying they were going to do the investigation right now even at the early morning hour and on Berghorst’s property. He also said that Berghorst never made any direct threats at the officers about their jobs.
Judge Schendt ordered that Berghorst work with probation on completing a pre-sentence investigation. He will now appear back in court on April 9 at 1:30 PM to be sentenced on the two charges.