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Murder suspect pleads guilty to attempted robbery

A Lincoln man accused in the 2017 shooting of a 19-year-old Hastings man completed a plea deal by admitting guilt to a pair of felony charges Tuesday in Adams County District Court.

Deante Mullen, 21, pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and accessory to a felony, each a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

In exchange for his plea, prosecutors reduced the charges from first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony.

Another part of the agreement was that Mullen would testify in the cases of any co-defendants brought to trial, which Mullen did in October.

Adams County District Judge Stephen Illingworth ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and scheduled sentencing for Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. He also ordered a transcript of the trial testimony to review before sentencing.

Mullen’s attorney also asked for a reduction in bond, which was set at $1 million. Zachary Blackman, prosecuting attorney with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, objected to the bond reduction, noting the charges are still serious.

Illingworth left the bond as set.

Brewster also requested that a no contact order be lifted between Mullen and Katherine Creigh, a co-defendant in the case and mother of Mullen’s daughter. Brewster said the no contact order made an intermediary necessary to allow Mullen to have video visitations with his daughter. Since testimony in the case is finished, Brewster asked that the no contact order be lifted to make it easier for Mullen to visit with his daughter.

Illingworth removed the no contact order.

Mullen and Daniel Harden, 23, were both charged with first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a crime. Prosecutors later added a charge of conspiracy to commit robbery against Harden, whose jury trial concluded Nov. 4 in Adams County District Court. A jury found Harden not guilty of the murder and weapon charges, but convicted him of the conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors said Mullen and Harden planned to rob Jose “Joey” Hansen in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2017. The attempted robbery led to Hansen’s death in 700 block of West G Street, where he was killed with a single gunshot wound to the back.

Mullen testified in the case, saying it was his plan to set up a robbery to help another friend, his weapon used in the crime and he was the driver of the vehicle used. He claimed Harden agreed to participate in the robbery, pointed Mullen’s gun at Hansen, and accidentally pulled the trigger.

Harden testified he was at home at the time of the shooting, corroborated by others near the time of the shooting.

Creigh, 23, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time, also testified at Harden’s trial. She had been charged with accessory to first-degree murder, a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Creigh’s charge was dropped Nov. 4 to obstructing government operations, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Her sentencing date is set for Jan. 8, 2020, at 1 p.m.

After the shooting, Creigh said she went back to the scene with Mullen to retrieve a dropped cellphone and package of cigarettes. Creigh also lied to police when questioned about the whereabouts of herself and Mullen at the time of the shooting.

Farm brothers having bushels of success making music, videos

Whether in the field or behind the camera, corn has played a part in what Kansas-based cropper rockers The Peterson Farm Brothers are all about.

The trio, which will headline at Thursday’s Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce Farmers and Ranchers Appreciation Barbecue, has combined silly ag-based humor with serious ag-based messages to create a crop of seriously well-received Youtube videos.

How successful? Following their debut video, “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” a parody of “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” released in 2012, which received more than 5 million views in its first week alone, the brothers have raised more than 62 million hits by setting the written words of oldest brother Greg Peterson to some of pop music’s most famous songs.

Their posted parodies include “Farm Rock Anthem” (“Party Rock Anthem” parody), “Takin’ Care of Livestock” (“Takin’ Care of Business” parody), and “Pasture Road” (“Old Town Road” parody). A rural re-make of “Crazy Train” is in the works.

Their surprising success has spanned all 50 states and led to blogs, informational ag videos, pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and appearances around the world, including concerts and/or speaking engagements in Canada, Australia, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand.

In addition to running the family farm — which includes caring for cattle, wheat, corn, soybeans, forage sorghum, sunflowers and alfalfa — they average 50-60 shows per year. Brother Greg, 28, covers some of the performance dates by himself while Nathan, 26, and Kendal, 23, mind the 2,000-plus acre family farm located south of Salina with their parents, David and Marla, and sister, Laura.

Having minored in music at Kansas State University, Greg, who plays piano, guitar, and trumpet, is the most serious musician of the bunch, bringing his younger brothers along for the ride as part of the act. Their performances are sung to tracks, while their live shows include antics dreamed up for the videos on the fly while venturing out in the fields.

“All three of us just brainstorm and think of funny things to film,” Greg said. “We don’t plan ahead. We just go out and do it.

“I’ve got my phone, and I keep notes on it and just jot down ideas I have. A lot of times it comes from tractor time. Spending 10 hours in the field, you have plenty of time to be creative.”

Their success, though surprising, has come from filling a niche that Greg said was unserved on YouTube, an American video-sharing platform created in 2005.

“When we started, we looked on YouTube for the kind of content we produce and there weren’t any farm music parody videos,” Greg said. “There were videos about the country lifestyle, but we thought there was definitely room for something new here.

“The ultimate goal behind what we’re doing is to educate and inspire people to be involved in agriculture. We have a lot of kids who watch our videos, so we take that seriously. We’re role models for these kids, and, hopefully, they’ll want to grow up to be farmers someday.”

Despite their celebrity success, Greg says the brothers — who all are married — hope to remain together and operate the family farm until the cows come home. Neither their parents, David and Marla, nor the local community, have allowed their popularity to go to their heads. Their Christian faith keeps them centered on what Greg said matters most in their lives: Faith, family and farming. In that order.

“Our parents have always been really supportive and big fans of what we’re doing, but at the same time, they try to keep us level-headed and making the right decisions,” he said. “We’re still normal and just try to be who we are. Most everyone around here knows our names at least, but at the same time, our friends and people who know us don’t treat us any differently because we’ve had a lot of YouTube views.”

Those hits have allowed Greg and his brothers the opportunity to farm and travel extensively — something he said has been a real juggling act in their sometimes chaotic lives. Meeting and experiencing how fellow farmers around the world make ends meet has been one of the highlights Greg said he values above all else, even when it means sacrificing what free time he used to have before success came knocking on the barn door.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize how hard it is to farm and travel,” he said. “It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s pretty rewarding to raise an animal, grow a crop, and work outside. Because it’s hard doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it. All of us want to stay farmers.”

That said, Greg admits that he and his wife, BrookeAnna, expect to dabble in contemporary gospel and/or country music going forward. The pair leads worship at Covenant Church in Lindsborg, Kansas.

“My wife and I definitely want to sing and perform together in some capacity,” he said. “We might do some recording and writing songs together.

“I don’t think we’d want to ever not have this outlet, especially me. Even though it can be a lot of work to do what we do, it’s still enjoyable. It’s kind of like farming: I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Serving at Thursday’s barbecue begins 6 p.m. on the Adams County Fairgrounds, 947 S. Baltimore Ave. The program follows at 7 p.m. and will include the presentation of this year’s Aggie Award to the Mads Anderson family.

The event is coordinated by the chamber Agribusiness Council.

Tickets are available from the chamber at 402-461-8400 or from sponsoring chamber members.

The cost to maintain the status quo keeps climbing

For what it is spending to transport and house inmates in other counties, Adams County could pay for a new jail in about 10 years, according to a study by an architectural firm.

Representatives from Omaha architecture firm Prochaska & Associates shared cost projections for keeping jail operations “as is” Tuesday during the third meeting of the Citizens’ Jail Committee at the county’s Wallace Elementary building.

The current Adams County jail, which was constructed in 1962, has out-of-date infrastructure and is non-compliant with state regulations. The only reason it can stay open is because it is grandfathered in to stay in operation under old rules.

The current jail has a 37-bed capacity with another three beds for booking and three special purpose beds.

Additional inmates are housed in other counties’ jails.

Maintaining current jail operations would mean transporting the majority of inmates.

According to projections from Prochaska, the average daily population of inmates boarded out will increase from 27 in 2018 to 79 in 2050.

In transporting and housing inmates elsewhere, Adams County’s annual costs are anticipated to increase from $1.69 million in 2018 to $13.74 million by 2050.

The estimated cost over 20 years to board out inmates, including inflation, is $94.425 million.

Within that $1.69 million for 2018 is $573,635 to board overflow inmates in other counties, $605,987 to transport those inmates and $509,385 in personnel costs to transport.

Those costs are only anticipated to increase over time.

A 146-bed facility is projected to cost $23.8 million to $29.5 million.

Scott Thomsen — member of the Adams County Board of Supervisors who chairs the county’s buildings, grounds and equipment committee — asked Citizens’ Jail Committee members to write down the maximum amount they thought voters in the county would support for a new jail. The majority of responses were between $25 million and $30 million.

Using rough estimates provided by Phil Lorenzen, the county’s bond counsel with D.A. Davidson, Thomsen said the cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000 for a $30 million jail with a 20-year bond would be $50 per year.

The cost for a $250,000 home would be $105 per year.

The potential danger for sheriff’s office staff and the public of transporting inmates so often was also discussed Tuesday.

Prochaska representatives mentioned a pair of incidents in Iowa in which inmates killed deputies during transportation.

“The activity of transporting inmates is not desirable even if you ignore the dollar amounts associated with it,” Zach Svoboda with Prochaska said.

Committee members were also introduced to a pair of “hold and transport” designs to be used if Adams County chooses to cease operating a jail, or if the Jail Standards Division of the Nebraska Crime Commission were to take away the grandfather status for Adams County’s jail and shut it down.

There was an option with minimal modification to increase the existing intake area in the courthouse basement and move most other sheriff’s office operations such as storage and work stations to the third floor of the courthouse, where the jail is currently located.

The other design shown Tuesday was for a new holding facility and sheriff’s office constructed on what is currently the parking lot north of the courthouse. Other county offices would use courthouse space currently occupied by the sheriff’s office.

No costs were given for those options.

The Citizens’ Jail Committee is tasked with making a recommendation for a new jail, the funding for which would be put to a public vote.

The target is to have a design concept recommended to the county board at the end of January 2020 in advance of the May 12, 2020, primary, or possibly a special election in summer 2020.

The proposed jail designs are still preliminary.

Committee members saw during their October meeting a “pre-schematic” design for a possible multi-level Adams County Justice Center that would be constructed just north of the Adams County Courthouse.

The design has space for 154 beds divided between space for work release, minimum-security, medium-security and maximum-security inmates.

Both genders could be housed there. Men and women would just be separated by sight and sound.

The design for 154 beds is based on the most efficient usage of the space available. That amount of beds is slightly more than the 146 Prochaska is proposing based on demographics and anticipated need over the next few decades.

The committee will meet next on Dec. 3.

City council approves home lot development

Hastings City Council members took several steps toward potentially adding multiple housing units on the city’s north side during their meeting Tuesday evening.

Council members passed several resolutions and ordinances with intent to prepare lots for 16 paired townhouse units and 41 single family homes east of Menards. The home lots will be east of the Pioneer Spirit Trail and the townhouse lots will be to the west of the trail.

The lots will be prepared for possible future construction of the buildings.

During the meeting, there were separate hearings for the townhouse and homes in conjunction with the resolutions. No one spoke at either hearing and each resolution was passed 6-0. Council members Ted Schroeder and Paul Hamelink were absent.

The Hastings Economic Development Corporation filed the applications for the modifications. In order to help pay for the modifications, HEDC plans to use tax increment financing.

Dave Ptak, city administrator, said TIF effectively commits any incremental taxes to pay for qualified infrastructure. Incremental taxes are determined by the difference between a base property valuation and future valuation. Ptak said the tax financing would last for about 15 years.

“It’s not a tax avoidance; it’s simply a tax postponement,” Ptak said.

Nebraska community development law says TIF can be used when a redevelopment plan is considered infeasible without it.

HEDC said the projects would not be feasible without the use of TIF and developer-donated land. The total estimated cost for both projects is almost $16.01 million and the anticipated valuation is about $11 million, with an incremental increase of another $11 million.

The Planning Commission and the Community Redevelopment Authority voted in favor of the approval during October meetings.

Later in the city council meeting, a new sewer extension district, a water extension district and a street improvement district were created for the redevelopment area. Each ordinance passed 6-0.

In addition to preparing lots for future housing, the council approved 6-0 a change in zoning and expansion of the Casey’s Retail Company’s subdivision, located at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 281 and 16th Street, to include the alley and Hardee’s subdivision.

The council also approved, 6-0, proceedings for property acquisition need to construct a road between Highway 281 and 42nd Street. Currently, about a quarter-mile west of Highway 281 is paved along 42nd Street, and then the road turns to gravel. Clint Shukei, city attorney, said the motion simply signals that the council is interested in acquiring the needed land.

The council approved the creation of the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, 6-0. The program, which was discussed during council’s work session, will allow for financing of energy efficient commercial projects.

In other business, the council:

  • Held a public hearing to fulfill a requirement of the 2018 CDBG Mobility Study Planning Grant.
  • Approved the consent agenda.
  • Changed city code to improve ease of electrical billing for city department facilities.
  • Approved a second reading that modified the city’s extra-territorial zoning jurisdiction.
  • Approved a contract for the filling of a coal bin near 1st Street and Colorado Avenue. The coal bin was discovered about a year ago after a truck drove over it and got stuck.