The last of five former Beatrice State Developmental Center employees convicted of abusing mentally handicapped clients was sentenced in court Wednesday.
Former employee Matthew Pangborn was sentenced to 112-180 months, roughly 9-15 years, in prison.
Last month, Pangborn was found guilty of five charges related to abusing vulnerable adults beginning in May, 2011.
He was convicted on three counts of abusing a vulnerable adult, a class 3A felony, and two counts of strangulation, a class 4 felony. Four additional charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris, who prosecuted the case, said it was important that justice be served for the three victims in the case, who were unable to speak on their own behalf.
“This particular case involved a great deal of time, investigation and legal proceedings, but there are three constants as far as this case is concerned… the victims,” Harris said. “I think it was important that even though these individuals didn’t speak, they didn’t appear in front of this court at any point because the mental challenges don’t allow them to communicate directly with other folks, there was clearly evidence indicating that they felt the pain.”
Harris described scenarios in which Pangborn hit a resident on top of the head “like a hammer” and instances of strangulation to the point the victim lost consciousness, one of which occurred in a van.
Pangborn’s attorney, Brett McArthur, asked for a delay of execution of the sentence, which would have allowed Pangborn to turn himself in the following day, citing a medical issue.
McArthur said that Pangborn, who limped into the courtroom cane in hand, had underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back that was sustained while helping a BSDC patient who was falling. The request for a delay of execution was denied.
McArthur requested a short sentence for his client, saying Pangborn was a positive member of society outside of BSDC.
“The overall balance of his life is a law-abiding, financially-responsible citizen,” McArthur said. “He has a family, he has young children he supported, he has paid his bills and taxes… these allegations do not represent the balance of who Matt Pangborn is.”
Before sentencing Pangborn, Gage County District Court Judge Paul Korslund described his crimes as a violation of trust for both the patients and their families, in addition to leaving a black eye on both BSDC and the Beatrice-area community.
“The victims of your abuse were among the most vulnerable of our society,” he said. “Furthermore, they were totally dependent on you and other caregivers at BSDC for their wellbeing and protection. You were in a position of trust and you grossly violated that trust.
”You are responsible for helping to create and maintain a pattern of abuse which inflicted great pain and suffering not only on the victims, but also on their families. The Beatrice community and BSDC have also suffered as a result of your brutality and disregard for your responsibilities as a caregiver.”
For each of the three counts of abusing a vulnerable adult, Pangborn was sentenced to 24-36 months. He was sentenced to 20-36 months for the two counts of strangulation. All sentences are to be served consecutively.
He will be eligible for parole in roughly 4 1/2 years and received credit for 326 days served.
In Oct., 2012, Pangborn was sentenced to 15-23 years following a jury trial.
That ruling was appealed and reversed by the Nebraska Supreme Court last July, sending the case back to Gage County District Court for a retrial.
Pangborn is the fifth participant in the abuse to be sentenced.
Matthew Johnson received two 1-4 year consecutive prison sentences, Cameron Barnes received 2-4 year consecutive prison sentences, Cody Creek was sentenced to 240 days in the county jail and Carmen Yates was sentenced to six months in jail.