Mother appealing sentence in toddler's death

FRANKLIN — The Naponee woman sentenced to serve 12-22 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections for her part in the death of her 2-year-old son is appealing the judge's decision.

Jeff Ensz of Minden's Lieske Law Firm, the court-appointed public defender for 25-year-old Laura Rinehart, filed his client's appeal with the Nebraska Court of Appeals on Sept. 11.

Joseph Rinehart Jr. was found to be dead when he was brought to Franklin County Memorial Hospital in Franklin for the second time on April 30, 2012. A May 2, 2012, autopsy showed

he died of head and internal injuries caused by blunt force trauma.

Laura Rinehart testified at her father Peter Draper's jury trial in May that about a week before Joseph Jr.'s death Peter took the boy into a bedroom and pinned him on his back on a bed with the boy's arms above his head. Peter forced his knee with all of his weight into
Joseph's stomach until the boy answered him saying "yes sir, yes sir, yes sir."

According to the Bill of Exceptions included in the appeal filings, Ensz intends to argue that the District Court erred by imposing a sentence on the defendant that was excessive.
Ensz asked District Court Judge Terri Harder at Laura's Aug. 20 sentencing for probation, saying his client was a victim of Peter Draper's abuse herself.

"I thought the facts from the case really showed that Laura was largely a victim as well in this case," Ensz said this morning. "I think there were a lot of mitigating factors in the fact that her father had absolute control over that household. She believed she had nowhere where she could turn."

Also on Aug. 20, Harder sentenced Nancy Draper, the boy's grandmother, to serve 20-30 years in the state prison system.

Nancy's court-appointed attorney Don Theobald of Red Cloud is not yet appealing her sentence.

In handing out sentences for both Laura and Nancy, Harder said even though neither woman abused the children living in their care, each woman shares culpability for not reporting the abuse Peter Draper inflicted on Joseph.

Harder pointed out that Laura worked as a custodian in the city hall and a church in Naponee and had ample opportunities to report the abuse.

Ensz said there are several factors that go into the argument about whether a sentence is excessive. A judge can consider the defendant's age, mental status, motivation for the offense, the nature of the offense and the amount of violence included in the crime.

"Obviously the main argument here for Laura was that she was not the one who ultimately caused Joseph Jr.'s death; that was Peter," Ensz said.

He said the argument for the Court of Appeals will be similar to his District Court argument, emphasizing the mitigating factors for the length of her sentence.

Laura was granted a plea offer because she was not the person who caused Joseph's injuries.

"I think her culpability in the whole thing deserves some additional consideration by the Court of Appeals in reconsidering the length of her sentence," Ensz said.

So far no hearings have been set in the appeal process.

The Court of Appeals will set a briefing deadline. The Franklin County District Court Office is assembling information Ensz requested for the case including testimony, evidence and exhibits from Laura's sentencing, her presentence investigation and all orders and journal entries from the sentencing.

The court briefs will be based on that information.

The Court of Appeals will set a briefing deadline and then list an opinion. Ensz couldn't speak to an exact timeline for that process but estimated it could be "a few months."

District Court Judge Stephen Illingworth on Sept. 12 overruled a new trial motion from Peter draper's court-appointed attorney, Charles Brewster of Kearney.

Peter Draper's sentencing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 10 in Franklin County District Court.

To read more, see Tuesday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

Copyright © 2014