Matteson found guilty of death by child abuse after daughter’s suicide

MADISON, Neb. -- A Madison County jury found 51-year-old Dale Matteson of Norfolk guilty Thursday of child abuse resulting in death. 

Earlier, Matteson pled guilty to attempted incest. 

Matteson's sentencing, which includes both charges, will be determined May 21 at 9 a.m. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The verdict came down after a four-day trial where prosecutors claimed that Matteson's pattern of sexual abuse caused his own daughter, Zoe, to commit suicide at the age of 17 in the parking lot of a Norfolk mall in 2019.

The prosecution, led by Joseph Smith, said Matteson was responsible for the suicide of his daughter, Zoe, after allegedly traumatizing her as a child

The defense argued that Matteson cannot be held responsible for her actions. Matteson's attorney, Seth Morris, contended that trauma does not always lead a person to take their own life.

Witnesses included therapists, doctors, friends, and even Zoe's mother. 

The verdict was unique in that child abuse resulting in death is most often is applied to physical abuse, according to the defense attorney, although Smith said the definition includes putting a minor's mental health in danger. 

"The application may have not been seen before but the law was always there," said County Attorney Joseph Smith to NCN. He said that if it is rare for others to be tried for the trauma they cause victims, that fact should change. "Apply the law to people doing bad things to little girls," he told the jury earlier. 

Smith was emotional after the trial, having met the victim before her death and becoming particularly invested in the case.

"Everybody involved in this case, probably even the jurors who had to listen to that, everybody should kind of sit back and relax and be thankful for what they have. That's what I'll do," said Smith.