A Columbus man accused of sexually assaulting a minor was acquitted by a jury of his peers Wednesday in Platte County District Court.
Joseph A. Voecks, 22, faced the lone charge of first-degree sexual assault of a minor, a Class II felony, punishable by up to 50 years in prison. The state, represented by Platte County Chief Deputy Attorney Breanna Anderson, asserted that Voecks in August 2016 assaulted a girl at least the age of 12 but younger than 16 when he was at least 19 years old.
The claim was made by the accuser in July 2017 when an officer with the Columbus Police Department responded to a treatment center in Omaha to speak with a child wishing to report a sexual assault. The child told the officer that the incident happened while she and Voecks were walking near the 33rd Avenue Bridge crossing the Loup River.
“I’m very relieved and happy because I knew he was innocent on it,” said Voecks’ mother, Amber Garrett. “I had a chance to talk to him when he was in the Platte County Detention and his story never changed, and then when I talked to the two witnesses who were there their stories never changed to me.
“He’s a bonehead, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t believe it. I was in shock when I was first notified by a probation officer that he had a sexual assault charge against him, and I said, ‘that can’t be right.”
Anderson said in an emailed statement to The Telegram that Wednesday wasn't an easy day.
"It was a difficult trial for everyone involved," she wrote. "I’m grateful to the jurors for their service and I respect their verdict."
Voecks, defended by Norfolk attorney Melissa A. Wentling, originally pleaded not guilty to the offense in April before District Court Judge Robert Steinke. Prior to his arrest, Voecks had been missing – and was presumed dead by his family – for more than a year.
In February, however, the defendant was found and apprehended by the United States Marshals Service in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was arrested on felony warrants out of Platte and Nance counties, and ultimately extradited back to Nebraska.
Prior to a not-guilty verdict being reached in Platte County this week, Voecks in June was sentenced to prison in Nance County District Court after admitting to violating the terms of his ongoing 24-month probation sentence levied after he was found guilty of attempting a Class III/IIIA felony, according to Nance County District Court Clerk Danette Zarek.
Voecks is currently in the process of serving an 18-month prison stint in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. He was credited with 164 days served in Platte County Jail and under the Good Time Law of Nebraska, he could be eligible for release after spending about nine months incarcerated.
Garrett said she hopes upon release her son can walk the straight and narrow.
“According to Joe, he’s going to try to straighten out his life and he wants to raise his daughter and get a job in Lincoln or Omaha,” Garrett said. “Just because of his previous bone-headedness, I told him I have to see it to believe it. But I do have faith in him, and I think having a sexual assault trial was enough for him to say, ‘I need to straighten my act out.’”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.