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Probation handed out in case concerning sexual assault of a child

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HARTINGTON - A judge sentenced an 18-year-old man to probation after he had a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl.

Steve Habegger, 18, was given four years of probation by Judge Bryan Meismer in Cedar County District court here Monday morning.

According to court documents, the Nebraska State Patrol was contacted by Chief Mark Duncan of the Creighton Police Department regarding the sexual assault that occurred Jan. 18, 2022. The assault involved a 12-year-old girl who started talking to Habegger through social media.

At the time the man was living in Montana but eventually moved to northeast Nebraska to start a new life and pursue a relationship with the girl. The sexual encounters occurred at a home in Wausa as well as a Hartington hotel where Habegger told hotel staff that the girl was his sister and he rented the room with cash.

Cedar County Attorney Nick Matney urged Meismer to sentence Habegger to prison for his crimes. A sentence to the Nebraska Department of Corrections would provide opportunities for Habegger to address his mental health and participate in sex offender treatment and educational programs, Matney said.

Meismer had the statutory authority to sentence Habegger to up to 23 years behind bars.

“That’s longer than you’ve been alive. I want you to understand this is serious, serious things we’re talking about here,” Meismer told Habegger when sentencing him to probation. “I’m taking a chance on you here. I hope you never see the inside of a courtroom again. Please don’t make a fool out of me here.”

Meismer said his decision won’t be popular but that given the circumstances of the case he feels he could face the victim and her family on the street and feel comfortable with his decision.

Habegger’s lawyer, Patrick Carney of Norfolk, emphasized Habegger’s young age and his intellectual deficits when making the case for probation. Habegger also had no prior criminal record.

“Does he have the ability to know right from wrong? Yes. I’m not saying that he doesn’t,” Carney said. “In recognizing certain situations, I think he struggles.”

Carney said Habegger is not a predator and the relationship, while it was inappropriate, was not coerced. Meismer said the relationship - at least a friendship - was allowed by the victim’s family.

Carney said all of the services Habegger could be afforded in prison are also available through probation.

“It feels kind of like a freshman dating a senior except it’s not,” Meismer said. “I’m not going to lie, I also took into account that I have a daughter who is approximately this age and I also have a son who is also approximately your age, but at the end of the day, I tried to take into account that I have a duty to the victim. I have a duty to her family.”

Habegger indicated he would seek to have his probation transferred to Montana to reside with his parents.

“I know I messed up and I want to go back home,” he said.

As part of his sentence, Habegger must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

In other court news: - Jackson Metheny, 26, Laurel, pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement which dismissed some charges in three different cases. He pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree assault on an officer and criminal trespassing stemming from an Aug. 8, 2022 incident at the Cedar County Jail in which he was resistant to being moved to a different cell and assaulted a jailer and a deputy. He also pleaded guilty to violation of a protection order and stalking, stemming from him entering a Laurel home without permission and he was barred from, through a protection order.

In the third case, he pleaded guilty to escape and theft by unlawful taking, stemming from his Oct.

22, 2002, escape from the Cedar County Jail and theft of an ATV as a getaway vehicle.

As part of the plea agreement, a joint recommendation will be for a total of five years in prison, however, the judge is not bound to follow the recommendation at his sentencing set for April 24.

- Patrick Hoesing, 34, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving under the influence of alcohol (.15 or more)-third offense.

Sentencing was set for April 24. Hoesing was drunk when he drove his vehicle into a Wynot garage in April 2022. He was unconscious and unresponsive for a time when a Cedar County sheriff’s deputy arrived and two tests indicated his blood alcohol level to be at .20 and higher. Prior offenses dating to 2008 and 2014 were stipulated as prior offenses in the case.

- An appeal filed for Guillermo Ortiz, 62, South Sioux City, was dismissed. Ortiz was seeking post-conviction relief stemming from a 2020 sexual assault of a child case. In his ruling, Meismer wrote Ortiz had one year to bring the appeal forward and he missed that deadline. He also said that his motion did not provide any relevant facts that his rights were previously violated to warrant an evidentiary hearing. Ortiz was convicted of sexual assault of a child stemming from an investigation into inappropriate touching of a 15-year-old girl at a public swimming beach near Yankton, S.D., in June 2020.