By Jason Schock
Just two days after celebrating his 28th birthday, a Dawson father had substantial reason to celebrate when a 12-person jury vindicated him from appalling accusations of sexual abuse on his own toddler with a unanimous verdict of “not guilty.”
After hearing testimony for four full days, it took the jury about three and a half hours last Friday evening to exonerate Josh Nincehelser, alleviating the legal burden that has weighed heavily on him the past 17 months. The jury got the case after 4 p.m. and returned at around 7:30. A different conclusion could’ve sent him to prison for the rest of his life.
“This is one step towards justice and ending the war against dads,” Nincehelser said. “People use the criminal justice system to gain custody – that’s what this was. They say you’re innocent until proven guilty, but I had to prove my innocence. It’s flat-out wrong.”
He was first accused of abusing his then-four-year-old daughter in April 2015 and was formally arrested months later, in June, at his place of employment. He maintained his innocence then, and didn’t waiver throughout the subsequent nearly year and a half, saying he repeatedly turned down plea deals from special prosecutor Jason Bergevin of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.
“They tried and tried, but I wasn’t going to admit to doing something I didn’t do.”
Slowly, but surely, his day in court came.
“I’m just glad the good people on the jury saw this for what it was and could see what was really going on,” he said.
It’s a justice system Nincehelser knows intimately well – from both sides of the courtroom. Initially he was with the plaintiffs as Richardson County Sheriff’s Deputy; then, in 2014, it was as defendant when he reported being shot on duty by a stopped motorist. He later admitted to shooting himself and the case attained statewide notoriety. This second go round as a defendant came with a far less novel narrative, albeit with significantly more severe repercussions. The repulsive nature of the charges – first degree sexual assault, incest and child abuse – carry substantial social penalties, perhaps regardless of legal proceedings, and don’t easily fade from public memory.
Nincehelser, who is now also a father of an infant daughter born in July, hasn’t been permitted to see his oldest child since March 2016, excluding the trial. At the time of his arrest, Nincehelser said his punishment started the day he was accused and at the time even suggested changing his name (he hasn’t). He will not agree to relinquish his parental rights, either, and plans to return to court and restore his custody.
“All they want to do is keep my daughter from me. That hurts a lot more than sitting in a jail cell,” he said.
“She’s only young once. I don’t want to miss my daughter growing up. I love her with all my heart – she’s everything to me. I would never do anything to hurt her or put her in harm’s way,” he said.
The complaint came from Nincehelser’s estranged ex-girlfriend’s sister, Tiffany Dettmann, 22, and the RC Sheriff’s Office, due to a potential conflict of interest, requested the Nebraska State Patrol conduct the investigation.
Nincehelser’s defense attorney, Steven J. Mercure, of Tecumseh, argued – successfully – that the toddler’s mother, Tessa Dettmann, and her family, “coached” the little girl into telling authorities a fabricated story in which her father touched her inappropriately.
The couple’s breakup, when the daughter was an infant, was contentious at first, and only escalated.
The 2014 shooting incident, Nincehelser admitted, damaged his credibility and served as ammunition for his adversaries, though it wasn’t allowed into evidence in this case.
Still, juries are inherently unpredictable and only after he heard the words “not guilty” did Nincehelser breath a sigh of relief.
“When I left that morning, I kissed my baby daughter – because I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again.
“And when I got home, I kissed her again and got a good night’s sleep.”