MADISON, Neb. -- Prosecutors in Madison County are blaming a 17-year old's death in 2019 on the victim's father. Now a jury will hear those arguments, in addition to the man's defense.
Dale Matteson's jury trial on his charges of child abuse resulting in death began Monday morning.
This morning, the jury for defendant Dale Matteson was chosen in Madison County Court. Questions regarding such topics as first-hand accounts of suicide, sex, and abuse were all on the table. The question they will have to answer at the end of the trial: can Matteson be held legally guilty for his daughter's suicide?
The jury selection for the court proceedings began at the auditorium in downtown Madison. About 60 strangers -- priests, principals, daycare teachers, farmers, students, and entrepreneurs -- gathered, socially distanced. The twelve chosen include eight women and six men, some with affiliations to work with kids, and others who had said they would need significant evidence to hold someone else responsible for a suicide.
After a break around noon, the group gathered in Madison County Courthouse to hear opening statements from the two sides and an idea of what the trial would look like for Dale Matteson.
County Attorney Joseph Smith, opened the proceedings. Smith argued that Matteson, who had admitted to attempting incest with his daughter, was the reason his daughter committed suicide:
"He comes around her," Smith demonstrated one incident between Zoe Matteson as a child and her father, "and he's naked, completely naked. He hugs her, and says he hopes she doesn't think he's weird." Smith continued to share the reports of things Matteson said to his daughter, based on Zoe's testaments to her counselors and from previous court hearings. The alleged comments included things like that he could teach her things boys her age couldn't, or even more vulgar and descriptive statements of sexual things he wanted to do to her.
Recordings in the next few days' trials, Smith said, will prove acts like this which Dale Matteson has admitted to.
Smith alleged that the victim even confided in her counselor, a future witness, that her first (failed) suicide attempt was because of her father's abusive behavior.
Smith concluded that these incidents gave Zoe Matteson her PTSD diagnosis, which led to her suicide thoughts.
He shared with the jury that the definition of child abuse by death includes having "put a child in a dangerous mental health state."
The defense, Berry Law Firm's Seth Morris, said that there were other factors at play and ultimately, Matteson could not be held accountable for his daughter's action.
"Mr. Matteson took responsibility for attempted incest, [but] what he will not do is take responsibility for what he did not do," said Morris.
Morris said Zoe suffered from depression, cyberbullying, and had just broken up with her boyfriend before her death.
"The issue is the state cannot prove is that Mr. Matteson is the proximate cause of Zoe's death," said Morris. He emphasized that she committed the act of her own volition. "She drove to Walmart and got those pills on her own."
Two witnesses were brought to the stand after opening statements. First, Norfolk Police Officer Amanda Dunbar. She confirmed for the defense that Zoe Matteson did not have physical bruises or injuries. She also confirmed to the prosecution that when she saw Zoe Matteson in July, the emaciated girl clearly had emotional injuries.
Detective John Hobbs then went to the stand, describing how they had found her body and how the 17-year-old had overdosed from 60 generic Benadryl pills.
"Was there any evidence that would lead you to believe anybody else was involved [in her death]?" Morris asked Hobbs.
"No," Hobbs stated.
Future testimonies will include Zoe's counselor and another alleged victim of Dale Matteson.
NCN will be following this case, which is expected to last until Thursday. Stay tuned to our website for updates.