OMAHA, Neb. — A Scottsbluff man’s child abuse conviction will stand, The Nebraska Supreme Court said Friday, reversing a state Court of Appeals ruling earlier this year that vacated the man’s conviction and sentence.
Cody Olbricht, 27, was convicted last year of intentional child abuse resulting in serious injury, accused of severely beating his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter. He was sentenced to 18 to 30 years in prison.
In February, the appeals court ruled there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to convict Olbricht, saying prosecutors failed to provide evidence that the child was in Olbricht’s sole care at the time she received injuries that led to a brain bleed and lacerated liver.
In its reversal Friday, the high court said the appeals court wrongly dismissed circumstantial evidence presented at trial as insufficient. The appeals court acknowledged that the circumstantial evidence included that the girl was afraid of Olbricht, that she said Olbricht had hurt her, and that she had suffered previous injuries while in his care.
“The suggestion that the State has a different or more onerous burden of proof in order to convict on circumstantial evidence is one with which appellate courts, including this court, have struggled historically,” Justice Stephanie Stacy wrote.
The high court also ordered Olbricht’s sentence set at 15 to 30 years, as that’s what the judge announced from the bench at Olbricht’s sentencing hearing. The sentence was later wrongly changed on the judge’s order to 18 to 30 years, the high court said.
Court records show the girl was hospitalized in late September 2014 after her grandmother noticed she had a fever and was lethargic and vomiting. Doctors determined she had multiple injuries. Besides the liver laceration and brain bleed, her injuries included a broken rib and bruising covering her body and face.
Scottsbluff police said there was little food in the home, and the girl’s clothes and bedding were stained with urine.
The girl’s mother, 25-year-old Cassandra Miller, was sentenced last year to two years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor child abuse by neglect.
Scotts Bluff County Attorney David Eubanks said he immediately contacted the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office following the Court of Appeals’ February ruling to discuss appealing to the state Supreme Court.
“We were all convinced that the decision was wrong and needed to get rectified, which now it has been,” Eubanks said Friday.
Olbricht remained behind bars during the appeal, he said.
An attorney for Olbricht did not immediately return a phone message left Friday seeking comment.