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Prosecution begins to present testimony in murder case

Prosecutors started presenting evidence Thursday morning in Adams County District Court in the murder trial against a 22-year-old Hastings man.

Daniel B. Harden is on trial for first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery, as one of two men accused of trying to rob 19-year-old Jose “Joey” Hansen and killing him in the process in 2017.

The third day of trial began with opening statements by each side telling the jury what they believed the evidence would show over the upcoming days of testimony.

Zachary Blackman with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office gave the opening statement for the prosecution.

“This case is about a planned drug robbery that went wrong and, ultimately, resulted in the death of Jose “Joey” Hansen,” he said.

Blackman said Harden conspired with Deante Mullen and Deonte Hayes to set somebody up for a robbery by arranging a drug deal, but planning to steal the person’s belongings on Sept. 11, 2017.

Blackman said the three agreed, but Hayes became ill from excess drugs and alcohol and stayed behind. Mullen and Harden drove to meet Hansen in a white Chevy Tahoe owned by Mullen’s girlfriend. Blackman said Mullen was driving the vehicle, which was spotted traveling down G Street by security cameras at 2:21 a.m. and 2:23 a.m.

Hansen was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back in the 700 block of West G Street.

Blackburn said Mullen is expected to testify that Hansen handed him an 8-ball (or 3.5 grams) of methamphetamine, which was to be traded for $100 and some cocaine. Instead, Mullen told authorities that Harden pulled out a gun owned by Mullen and pointed it at Hansen to rob him. Hansen tried to exit the vehicle and that’s when Mullen says Harden shot him in the back.

Katherine Creigh, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time, is expected to testify that Mullen came back to the house in an agitated state. Blackburn said Creigh saw Harden come into the house and change into some of Mullen’s clothing before leaving the house.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Zachary Blackman with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Offices addresses the jury Thursday during opening statements at the Adams County Courthouse in the trial of Daniel Harden, who is accused in the 2017 robbery and death of Jose “Joey” Hansen.

Creigh asked about Mullen’s cellphone and Mullen told her he must have dropped it at the scene. She then drove back to the 700 block of West G Street to retrieve the cellphone and a pack of cigarettes that Mullen had dropped. Blackburn said that trip was also caught on video at 2:51 a.m.

But defense attorney Clarence Mock told the jury that his client wasn’t even at the scene of the robbery.

Mock said Harden couldn’t have been involved in the robbery and be at his residence by 3:04 a.m., which is the time he logged into Facebook at his residence.

“Daniel Harden couldn’t be in that Tahoe,” Mock said.

He said Capt. Raelee Van Winkle with the Hastings Police Department measured the time it took to walk from Creigh’s residence at 106 N. California Ave. to 714 N. Williams Ave., where Harden lived at the time. He said Van Winkle walked the distance in 18 minutes and ran it in 11 minutes.

Mock said Van Winkle was in better shape than Harden so it would have taken him even longer to make the trip.

Mock said Harden did go to Creigh’s house on Sept. 10 to drink alcohol and use drugs. But after the discussion turned to robbery, Mock said Harden decided to walk back to his house. There, he logged into Facebook at 3:04 a.m. and shortly thereafter started playing video games with a roommate, Laikyn Willison.

While playing video games, Mock said they were interrupted by Dustie Martin, adding another person to verify Harden’s location.

Outside the stories he expects to hear from Mullen and Creigh, Mock said there is no indication that Harden ever contacted Hansen. In addition, he said there isn’t any physical evidence to link Harden to the scene, either.

He said the evidence actually shows that the shooting couldn’t have occurred in the way Mullen told authorities, due to the trajectory of a bullet that struck a nearby house.

“There is no physical or electronic evidence that connects Daniel Harden to Joey Hansen’s death,” he said.

Mock said the group had been talking about robbing somebody to get money for Hayes, Mullen’s friend. If the intent was to rob somebody to get money for Hayes, Mock said there would be no incentive for Harden to participate.

“Why would Daniel Harden participate in the robbing of Joey Hansen to get money for Deonte Hayes and (Hayes’ girlfriend) Serenity Crossfield?” he asked. “He’s (Harden) going to deny he said he was down to do anything.”

Mock told the jury that both Mullen and Creigh were charged with felonies in the murder. Each made a deal with the prosecution to reduce their charges in exchange for testifying against Harden. Mock said that gave them incentive to make up a story that would make prosecutors willing to give them a deal.

Even after agreeing to talk to police to try to get reduced charges, Mock said Mullen lied to authorities multiple times. First he told police he threw the gun away. Then he said he gave it away. The final version had Mullen selling the firearm in Lincoln for $200.

Mock said Creigh’s story also lacks credibility due to actions she took after the murder.

“She already tampered with evidence in this case,” he said, referring to her removal of items from the crime scene.

Following opening statements, prosecutors called eight witnesses to the stand.

Amel Gonzalez of Hastings said he was living at 710 S. Lincoln in 2017 and found Hansen’s body while out for a walk. Jurors heard his call to the 911 dispatch center.

The first officer on the scene was HPD officer Koob Borgeling, who testified he took photos of the Hansen’s body and areas of blood spatter found on the street. He identified Hansen using a driver’s license in his wallet, which also had $480 in cash. Another officer also testified.

Vincent Maretti of Hastings testified that he heard a loud noise that could have been a gunshot about 2:30 a.m.

Aspen Palu, Hansen’s girlfriend, testified that she saw Mullen call multiple times before Hansen answered the phone. She said she was worried after he didn’t return from the drug deal and started messaging and calling him, but didn’t get an answer. When she saw police in the area blocks away, she said she knew it involved Hansen.

Mikaella Vanderpool testified that Palu and Hansen had been staying on her couch at the time. She said she saw Hansen leave the house shortly after 2 a.m.

Van Winkle testified that she searched Hansen’s phone and found the last contact was with a Facebook account under the name Deante Lil’nonsense Mullen. With that information, she put out a BOLO (be on the lookout) for Mullen, his girlfriend and her vehicle.

Sgt. Nolan Conradt with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Police Department testified that he spotted the vehicle in Lincoln and called for backup. He approached Mullen, who attempted to get back into the vehicle and flee, but Conradt was able to stop him and place him under arrest for an outstanding warrant.

First-degree murder is a Class 1A felony punishable by life in prison. Use of a firearm to commit a felony is a Class 1C felony punishable by five to 50 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 50 years in prison.

New city employees integral to HU operations

In the more than two months Tara Ogren and Robin Ginn have been on the job, they have become integral to Hastings Utilities’ operations.

As accounting manager for the city of Hastings, Ginn oversees accounting for Hastings Utilities. She started Aug. 5, working closely with city finance director Roger Nash and six others in the city finance department.

Ogren has worked since July 15 as process financial analyst for Hastings Utilities, working closely with the finalization of the city’s solar field project near the Hastings Municipal Airport.

She gave tours during a ribbon cutting and open house for the solar project on Oct. 3. The solar panels were energized in September.

Both women were introduced to the Hastings Utility Board during the board’s Aug. 8 meeting.

“Tara’s gotten involved in a lot of different projects, a lot of different initiatives,” HU manager Kevin Johnson said during a recent interview. “The solar one primarily, the cost of service study; we’re doing a couple of other analytics with our cleaning services and integrated resource plan study, which is taking on how we’re sourcing our energy. She’s been involved in a lot of different areas already.”

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Hastings Utilities process financial analyst Tara Ogren (left) gives a tour Oct. 3 of the Hastings Community Solar Farm.

He wants to see her more involved in key performance indicators, process improvement and strategic initiatives, as well.

“We want her to be the linchpin of pulling everybody together and working toward reporting and tracking how well we’re doing on the strategic focus areas of our strategic initiatives,” Johnson said.

In Ginn’s role, she is helping meet the goal set by HU leadership of having financial information available 30 days after month’s end.

“Robin has been diving in into the processes that accounting is going through every month to develop our financials,” Johnson said.

Nash is projecting to be on track by the end of October — which means having September financials complete.

“We can start make decisions if we need to by having the data as opposed to just a general feel for what our spending’s been,” Johnson said. “All the leaders of our departments, they know what they are spending all along. It just helps to be able to know ‘Am I where I think I am’? The data’s got to be there to help them and the financial statements help with that.”

Ginn came to the city of Hastings from Hastings Irrigation where she was assistant controller and worked for nearly eight years.

She grew up in Hastings, graduating from Adams Central in 1990.

“It’s been interesting,” she said. “There’s a lot of different stuff that happens here.”

She comes from a manufacturing background. Going into governmental accounting is a little different.

“It’s been quite the learning experience,” she said.

Ogren came to Hastings Utilities from the city of Grand Island’s public works department, where she worked six years, starting as the regulatory compliance manager and moving into the wastewater engineer position in which she did project management.

“I liked the utility structure, what I knew about it, here in Hastings,” she said. “I liked that the position seemed to be integrated with each department, so it’s a good variety. When I did meet the group it was a very good group, interested and passionate about their work, a good fit.”

Ogren and Ginn have seen the proliferation of women in their respective fields over time.

Ogren, who is a degreed engineer, studied biology in college.

“Coming into engineering later in my career, I guess I take a different perspective on it, anyway,” she said. “Today it’s very important to encourage young women to get involved in engineering from a young age.”

She volunteered with the Ocean First Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which puts on summer camps. There are different themes but one camp she helped with focused on girls in engineering, robotics camp.

In the case of Ginn in the city finance department, finance director Nash is the only man in the eight-person department.

“Now I’d say it’s probably more women than men,” she said of the accounting field.

Johnson said city officials interviewed a handful of applicants for both positions. In the case of the accounting manager, all of the applicants were women.

He has seen more and more women rise to leadership positions in his more than 35 years in the utility industry.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Tara Ogren, a process financial analyst for Hastings Utilities, gives a tour of the Hastings Community Solar Farm Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

“I’m encouraged by it,” he said. “I think diversity is necessary. I think women in a lot of different roles bring a different mindset to the role, specifically in engineering.”

Men grow mustaches for kids' charity

Growing a mustache can garner some unwanted attention. But for 43 mustache growers in Hastings, they were looking for as much attention as they could.

“People, when they grow goatees, it just looks normal. When you just grow a mustache, people are like ‘what are you doing there?’ “ said Ryan Sullivan, president of Mustaches 4 Kids Hastings. “Mustaches get people’s attention.”

The more attention each grower got, the more money he could raise.

Mustaches 4 Kids celebrated the end of their month-long growing season Thursday night with the light-hearted and mostly improvised Stache Bash, held at the Lark in downtown Hastings. The event marked the deadline for each mustache grower to raise money for a charity.

“It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s goofy. We like to have fun, but we’re doing a really good deed,” Sullivan said.

This year’s charity is the Kids and Dreams Foundation, an organization that supports kids dealing with autism, bullying and other challenges.

About a month ago, the growers started the season with clean shave night, where each grower shaved their face and picked a mustache name.

Every week since then, the group and public met to collect donations, make sure people are not growing full beards and to offer moral support.

“When you first start growing a mustache, it looks a little shady,” Sullivan said.

Their hard work paid off however, as the group raised $32,000, smashing the goal of $20,000 to $25,000. Most of the money came in the 48 hours leading up to the bash.

The group also hit a milestone of raising more than $200,000 in six growing seasons.

In addition to celebrating the money raised during the month, the bash held a costume contest — which was loosely mustache-themed — and competitions for the best and worst mustaches, called the Stachey Awards.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Ryan Weeks as Ron Burgundy (right) receives the best costume trophy Thursday from Jason Ackles (left) during the Mustaches 4 Kids Stache Bash at the Lark in downtown Hastings. Pictured in the middle is Nate Konen.

Adam Perry took the “Sweetest Stache” award — a large wrestling belt — while sporting a Luigi costume, and Dave Long received a small trophy for the “Nastiest Stache.”

Ryan Weeks took the best costume award, giving his best Ron Burgundy impression and Jamy Schultz received a Stachey for the best mustache name, “Squirrely Dan.”

Twelve growers were also inducted into the Selleck Society for raising more than $1,000.

At the end of the night, however, many of the mustaches would meet an end.

“I can not wait to get home and get rid of this thing,” said John Dutton, one of the mustache growers.

This is the second year Mustaches 4 Kids is donating to the Kids and Dreams Foundation. The money from Thursday’s event will go to expanding Operation Shine Camp, a two-day camp for kids age 7-12 with autism.

“Its a need that we’re able to reach and help with. We’re excited to be able to do that but it takes funds,” said Aaron Bly, founder and executive director of Kids and Dreams. “

The foundation has been holding the camp at Covenant Cedars Bible Camp near Central City. But Bly said because there is a long waiting list, they hope to also hold Operation Shine Camp at Maranatha Bible Camp near North Platte.

Mustaches 4 Kids donated to the Kids and Dreams Foundation four years ago, Bly said. Back then, the foundation only had one camp and was about two years old. This summer, the foundation held five camps with 50 kids.

“My wife is not a fan,” Bly said. “It’s for the kids. I’ve only grown facial hair twice and it’s been both times that the Mustache for Kids have selected us.”

Bly and his mustache, Agent Dreamstacher, also took the “Most Fundrasiest” Stachey award, with over $5,000. He also got an additional $250, donated by Hastings Keno, for having the most independent donators, at over 70.

Mustache 4 Kids took a year off last year. The year before that, the group donated to Head Start.