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Co-defendant takes the stand in murder trial

Deante Mullen offered jurors a glimpse into the final moments of Jose “Joey” Hansen’s life before the 19-year-old was shot and killed on Sept. 11, 2017.

Mullen took the stand to testify in the murder trial of co-defendant Daniel Harden on Friday in Adams County District Court.

Mullen testified that Harden contacted him to hang out on Sept. 10, 2017, around 10:27 p.m. Mullen picked Harden up in a white Chevy Tahoe owned by Katherine Creigh, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time.

Mullen said he also was contacted by Deonte Hayes, an old friend who wanted to hang out. Mullen picked up Hayes, his girlfriend Serenity Crossfield and their 1-year-old child and brought the group over to his house.

He said they were partying, smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine, taking prescription drugs and drinking alcohol.

During the course of the evening, the conversation turned to “doing a lick,” which Mullen described as robbing someone of drugs or money. Mullen said Hayes needed money to buy diapers and clothes for his child. Mullen wanted to help his friend and started looking for a person to set up for a robbery.

Mullen testified Harden indicated he was willing to help because he wanted money too. While they didn’t discuss specifics, Mullen said the participants in a robbery generally split whatever is taken.

“He just said he was down to hit a lick,” Mullen said.

Mullen said another person contacted him about teaming up for a robbery at a later time, around the same time he was looking for people to rob.

He managed to get ahold of Joey Hansen and the two arranged, through text message and phone calls, to trade 3.5 grams of meth and $100 for 3.5 grams of cocaine. Mullen said he had about 12 grams of cocaine, but planned to rob Hansen instead of trading.

Meanwhile, Hayes had gotten sick, possibly from a drug overdose. He had turned pale and was throwing up. Mullen said Hayes went into the bedroom — where the child was sleeping — to lay down. By the time the deal was set up, Mullen said he couldn’t wake Hayes.

Mullen said he turned to Harden next.

“I said, ‘Are we still doing this,’ “ Mullen said. “He said, ‘Yes.’ “

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Amy Weber, Nebraska State Patrol firearm expert, addresses the jury during testimony in the Daniel Harden murder trial Friday at Adams County Courthouse.

Mullen said he picked up his Draco — identified by other witnesses as an AK47 variant handgun — and drove Creigh’s Tahoe to the 700 block of West G Street. At first, he couldn’t find Hansen and drove around the area for a while. After a phone call to Hansen, Mullen stopped the vehicle at G Street and Hastings Avenue to wait for Hansen to arrive.

A couple minutes later, Hansen opened the door and got into the vehicle.

“He gets in and hands me a bag of meth,” Mullen said. “That’s when the gun went on him.”

Mullen said Harden was holding his Draco, leaning over the backseat and pointing the weapon at Hansen. He said there had been no discussion about how the robbery would be conducted. He didn’t see Harden chamber a round into the gun, but said he didn’t know how to check it. He had recently purchased the gun and it had been loaned to his brother, Devin, on two occasions.

In the back seat of the Tahoe, Hansen swore and opened the door to get out of the vehicle.

“That’s when you hear a boom,” Mullen said.

Mullen testified the gunshot made his ears ring and he felt the blast of the muzzle flash on his face. He said he didn’t see whether Hansen was hit but couldn’t see him anymore.

“It just happened so fast,” he said. “I immediately panicked. I didn’t know what to do.”

Mullen said he got out of the vehicle and glanced around, but didn’t see Hansen. Mullen shut the back door where Hansen had exited and got back into the Tahoe.

“I got back in the car and asked Dan, ‘Why did you shoot?’ “ Mullen said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t mean to.’ “

Mullen drove back to his house, feeling panic because he didn’t know if he had just been involved in a killing.

“I don’t know how fast I was going, but I was going pretty fast,” he said.

At his house, he and Harden exited the vehicle. Mullen went inside the house, but he didn’t recall whether Harden did.

Inside, Creigh asked Mullen about his cellphone because she had been calling him. Mullen checked his pockets and couldn’t find it. He checked the vehicle, but it wasn’t there either.

Thinking it may have been left at the scene of the shooting, Creigh drove the Tahoe back over to the area, with Mullen in the passenger seat, and saw the phone and a package of Mullen’s cigarettes laying in the street. Mullen said he didn’t remember dropping them, but thought he must have when he got out to shut the back door.

The next day, they found out that Hansen had died from a single gunshot wound to the back.

Mullen and Creigh decided to go to Lincoln to get out of town for a while. They invited Hayes, Crossfield and Harden to come with them. Mullen said he sold the Draco for $250 because he wanted to get rid of the weapon.

Mullen later was arrested by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Police Department with help from the Lincoln Police Department for an outstanding warrant.

Mullen said he was sorry for his actions.

“I feel sorry for his family. I feel sorry for my family,” he said. “I feel wrong for it. I feel very wrong for everybody, including my baby girl.”

Hansen’s mother, Wendy, and other family members and friends attending the trial were visibly shaken as Mullen recounted the tragic scene.

Friday was the second day of testimony in the murder trial, which will continue Monday.

Harden is on trial for first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery.

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.

Festival provides inclusive atmosphere for special needs community

With nearly 40 activities, the Special Needs Fall Festival has something for everyone.

That is one of the things Krista Niederklein said she likes best about the event that took place for eight hours Friday at Evangelical Free Church.

Niederklein is the individual skills development program teacher at Watson Elementary.

She said organizers of the Special Needs Fall Festival do a good job picking activities that encourage participation.

“The kids are smiling and they’re happy and they’re excited through the whole experience, so it is an exciting feeling to see them all participate and enjoy their day,” she said, overseeing her students who were in one of the bounce houses set up outside the church.

Watson had 13 students at the event.

Emilee Bruns, individual skills development program teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, brought eight students to the festival.

Paraeducators Sarah Roberts and Ann Wolf said the event is a good way for the students to meet new people and explore different activities. The students get a chance to be themselves at the festival.

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Four-year-old Jayden Gish plays a golf game during the Special Needs Fall Festival Friday at the Evangelical Free Church in Hastings.

Bruns said her students especially benefitted from the sensory activities like handling animals at the petting zoo and experiencing textures of the different animals.

There were ponies, goats, chickens and rabbits at the petting zoo.

“They were able to hold the animals,” she said.

She appreciated there was also a calming room in the midst of all the activity for participants who get over stimulated.

“So I get to do the fun and the calm,” she said.

Events included face painting, cake walks, jewelry making, pumpkin painting, balloon figures, a magic show and sensory activities.

New activities this year included storytelling, tie dying T-shirts and dancing.

Project coordinator RuAnn Root said about 500 people had come to the festival by 1 p.m., two hours after it started. She expected to see about 700 participants by the festival’s conclusion.

This is the fifth year for the Special Needs Fall Festival.

The event is open to all ages. Many of the participants on Friday wore costumes.

“Every year it seems as though we gain just a little bit more,” she said. “I think this is the only event of its kind in and around the area.”

The festival’s footprint expands each year, now attracting participants from as far away as York and Kearney as well as Grand Island.

“I think the event is getting known in the different communities and realizing what a fun, all-inclusive event it is and they want to come and enjoy the day,” Root said.

Events like the Special Needs Fall Festival help families to feel they aren’t alone, she said.

“This really does give you a snapshot that you are not alone,” she said. “There are lots of families with a variety of different kinds needs within their family. You can come here, network and realize you are not alone.”

Various organizations and individuals came together to organize the event including the Hastings Community Foundation, Goodwill Industries and the ARC of Adams-Clay County.

“There is 100 people volunteering behind the scenes to make this day successful,” Root said.

The Special Needs Fall Festival partnered with area schools for volunteers.

“Which is nice because it really does do a lot of mainstreaming and start teaching that people with disabilities aren’t anybody you should run away from or be afraid of,” she said. “They are people just like you, just like me.”

Ex-Naval Academy head tapped to head University of Nebraska

LINCOLN — A career military man and former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy was chosen Friday as the top candidate to become the next president of the University of Nebraska system.

The university Board of Regents voted unanimously to nominate Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. as their priority candidate.

Carter is a retired Navy vice admiral and served as superintendent of his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, from 2014 until this year.

“Ted’s character and integrity are second to none,” said University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, of Columbus, who led the search. “He has a proven focus on the success and well-being of students, faculty and staff. He has a deep appreciation for the role and mission of higher education. And is a public servant in every sense of the word.”

Regent Tim Clare said Carter “is a skilled, smart, strategic leader with impeccable ethics and integrity,” whose leadership will help strengthen the university.

Carter’s nomination comes amid declining enrollment at all four of the Nebraska system’s campuses, including its flagship campus in Lincoln. Just two years ago, enrollment at the Lincoln campus hit a record high of 26,079 students.

As superintendent, Carter oversaw all functions of the Naval Academy, including the leadership of 4,400 students and 1,500 faculty and staff members, and the management of a $500 million budget.

Carter’s nomination triggers a 30-day public review period that will include forums throughout the state, where Nebraska residents will have the opportunity to question him and offer feedback. After the review period, the regents will vote on whether to finalize Carter’s appointment as the president-elect.

Nebraska law previously required the university to publicly name four finalists for the presidency, but university officials successfully lobbied lawmakers in 2016 to create a more secretive process, arguing that publicly identifying finalists would scare off potential quality candidates.

The system’s last full-time president was Hank Bounds, a Mississippi native who left the job in mid-August and took a faculty position at the University of South Alabama. Another university administrator, Susan Fritz, has been serving as the Nebraska system’s interim president until a permanent replacement can be found.

Carter graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as “Top Gun,” and flew missions as a fighter pilot in the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and oceanography from the Naval Academy. He also has educational credentials from the 18-month-long Navy Nuclear Power School, the Air Force War College, the Naval War College and the Armed Forces Staff College.

“The University of Nebraska has a rich history of serving the needs of the state, and an opportunity to do even more in the future,” Carter, 60, said in a written statement. “I am humbled by the confident of the search committee and the Board of Regents, and I look forward to a conversation with Nebraskans about how we can make a different for the next generation of students.”

Museum, library take part in solar project

The Hastings Museum and Hastings Public Library are among the latest participants in the city’s solar field, west of the Hastings Municipal Airport.

With an eye on increased grant applications as well education opportunities, boards for the respective organizations each chose during their most recent meetings — Oct. 8 for the library board and Oct. 11 for the museum board — to participate in the share option with the solar project providing 25% of each building’s needed electricity.

While participation in the city’s solar project does provide the library and museum with additional opportunities, cost savings is not one of them — at least not yet.

Participation in the solar project means electricity costs for each building will increase slightly, about 2.8%.

Electricity costs are anticipated to initially increase for the library $554 more than the building’s existing estimated annual electricity costs of $19,828. That estimate is based on an average monthly usage of 20,760 kilowatts.

For the museum, the initial annual cost increase would be $2,265 per year more than the building’s existing estimated electricity costs of $80,646. That is based on an average monthly usage of 85,712 kilowatts.

“We’ve been told this is not a cost-savings opportunity for citizens because our rates are low in the city,” Library Director Amy Hafer told her board. “This is an opportunity to do something because you believe in green energy or because you believe electric rates are going to go up over time. It’s also a good opportunity for organizations like the library or museum if you are applying for grants and want to say you are doing green things.”

The solar project has a 30-year lifespan.

To provide 25% of each building’s electricity needs would be 35 shares for the library and 143 shares for the museum.

One solar share will include three panels and equal 150 kWh.

With participation by the library and museum, 1,041 of the 6,012 solar project panels, or 17%, have been spoken for as of Thursday morning, leaving 4,971 panels still available.

About 45 local businesses and residences are participating in the project.

Participation options include the purchase of installed panels, participating in a solar share program or a combination of the installation and share options. The options carry a one-time $50 refundable enrollment fee due for all options at the time of application.

While electricity costs with the solar shares initially are more expensive than not participating, the shares could provide cost savings down the road.

“In the event that electric rates go up in 30 years we’re locked in at this, so it should be a good deal for us and it shows good departmental cooperation,” Hafer said.

Discussing the solar project with their boards, directors of the two buildings thought the additional cost was so minimal participation just made sense.

Museum Director Becky Matticks said applications for grant funds will accompany the renovation planned for the museum using half-cent sales tax funds.

“If we can say we are using solar energy, or part of it, for our electricity, we’re hoping that will help us in getting grant funding,” she said. “I think it’s a trade off and we’ll see how it goes.”

Even though the library and museum boards chose to participate in the solar project after the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, there is room in both departments’ budgets for the additional costs.

“You never spend everything,” Matticks said. “If we’re a little over in the electrical, we’ll make it up somewhere else.”

City Administrator Dave Ptak wrote in an email to the Hastings Tribune that while the Hastings City Council will be informed of the museum’s and library’s participation in the solar project, this is a budget item and affects utilities billings only, so the decision was up to the boards.

Matticks was reluctant, at first, to bring participation in the solar project to her board because it would mean higher electric costs.

She then talked with museum staff and decided there is a benefit because of grant opportunities.

Using solar power is a step toward LEED certification, which provides independent verification of a building or neighborhood’s green features, allowing for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, cost-effective buildings.

“Some of those things we can’t do,” she said. “We just can’t afford to do, but this is something we could afford to do.”

So, she brought the proposal to the museum board.

“They just said ‘I don’t see why we wouldn’t do it; $2,200 is a cost we could absorb,’ ” she said. “Hopefully over time we’ll get that, plus, in many different ways.”

Both the museum and the library eventually should each have a monitor that can show the public real-time energy generation figures for the solar panels at the Hastings project.

“That is real time information that can really educate people,” Matticks said. “It helps us because that’s our job. That’s what we do and we can incorporate that into our exhibits and programming and it also helps the utilities because then that’s getting the word out and they may get more customers to jump on the solar panel wagon.”