LINCOLN — An employee convicted of abusing residents at the Beatrice State Development Center has won a new trial on a jury instruction mistake.
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new trial for Matthew Pangborn, ruling that a judge erred by allowing jurors, without proper warnings, to use during its deliberations a “road map” of the state's case used by prosecutors.
Pangborn was one of five state caregivers convicted last year of abusing residents at the Beatrice facility, which houses people with severe mental retardation, physical disabilities and other medical issues.
The court ruled Friday that the road map had been admitted into Pangborn's trial for demonstrative uses only but that Gage County District Judge Paul Korslund failed to make that clear to jurors, who used it while deliberating his guilt or innocence.
Deliberative exhibits are aids used to help jurors understand a complex case. In this instance, it was a poster that outlined a “road map” of the state's 10 abuse allegations — who was abused, where the abuse occurred, the nature of the alleged abuse and who witnessed it.
The court, for the first time, weighed in on the issue of whether such aids are the same as other evidence submitted at a trial and whether they should be allowed to be used during jury deliberations.
The 21-page opinion, written by Supreme Court Judge William Cassel, stated that such trial aids are not the same as “substantive” evidence but can be used during jury deliberations if a trial judge properly explains their limitations and if the exhibits are not prejudicial.
“If not instructed on the limited purposes of demonstrative exhibits, the jury may assume that demonstrative exhibits constitute primary proof of the information contained therein, leading the jury to shirk its duty to determine the truth and accuracy of the evidence,” Cassel wrote.
The opinion stated that in the Pangborn case, the judge erred by not warning jurors about the limitations of such demonstrative exhibits.
Pangborn had been found guilty on four counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult, one count of attempted abuse of a vulnerable adult, three counts of strangulation, and one count of attempted strangulation. He was sentenced to 15 to 23 years in prison.