Though Timothy Fuentes, of Scottsbluff, had a history of sex offense, the man objected when a Scotts Bluff County judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.

In April 2013, Scotts Bluff County Judge Randall Lippstreu sentenced Fuentes to 50 years imprisonment on a charge of third-degree sexual assault, a Class IC felony. Fuentes had been arrested after he touched a 9-year-old girl in her groin area. Fuentes had encountered the girl as he walked by her home as she played outside with her siblings. The girl immediately reported the assault to her parents, who contacted police.

During Fuentes’ sentencing hearing, former Scotts Bluff County Attorney Doug Warner told the judge, “There is no safety for children when Mr. Fuentes is in the public,” Fuentes had three prior convictions for sex crimes against minors and was required to register as a sex offender at the time of the assault.

Fuentes appealed his sentence, alleging it was excessive, and the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence. He then filed a motion for post conviction relief, arguing ineffective counsel, which was also denied by the district court. Fuentes appealed the denial of the postconviction relief to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

In his latest appeal, Fuentes argued seven ways in which he alleged that his attorney, a Scotts Bluff County public defender, had been ineffective, including by failing to file a motion to suppress a photo array and the girl’s identification of Fuentes as the man who assaulted her; failed to investigate and depose possible witnesses, including clerk and a friend of Fuentes who had been at a nearby liquor store; and failing to engage in plea negotiations or communicate plea offers to the prosecutors.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday, affirming the district court’s denial of postconviction relief. The court said that a some of the allegations alleged in the appeal had not been raised in the postconviction relief motion. Instead, the court addressed the issues that were raised in the relief motion, including that Fuentes argued that the judge should have recused himself because he had tried a 1995 case in which Fuentes was convicted on a sex assault charge. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that Fuentes had not raised this issue at trial, and that in fact, a strong burden exists to show that a judge is not impartial.

The court also addressed Fuentes claim that his attorney did not contest the photo array and subsequent identification of Fuentes. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Fuentes could not show that he was prejudiced by any failure of counsel to suppress the photo array. Officers had already identified Fuentes as a possible suspect from questioning of the girl’s parents and Fuentes also did not deny being at the scene. Fuentes also argued that his attorney had not investigated inconsistencies in witness’ statements, however, the court ruled that it could not see any inconsistencies in the testimony.

Maunette Loeks is the digital news editor of the Star-Herald. Contact her at 308-632-9054 or by email at mloeks@starherald.com.

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