An Omaha man accused of choking and abusing a child overdosed on antidepressants the night before he was set to testify at his trial.

The 34-year-old Omaha man had watched his stepchildren testify Monday about the day that, they allege, he hoisted a 7-year-old boy by his neck and pressed him up against a wall — holding him there until the child couldn’t breathe.

The boy, who took the stand wearing a dress shirt and bow tie, described how his stepfather then threw him down on a bed, grabbed a fly swatter and whipped him with both the rubber end and metal handle.

Douglas County prosecutors Beth Beninato and Jen Meckna showed the jury pictures of the boy’s bruising, in which the outline of the fly swatter handle was visible.

Hours after that testimony, the stepfather overdosed on antidepressants and ended up at Immanuel Medical Center.

Now, his trial is on pause as he recovers.

It is the second time in the past two years that a defendant in Douglas County has taken drastic measures during a trial. Coincidentally, both have occurred in cases heard by Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf.

Eighteen months ago, a 70-year-old man charged with sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl shot himself during an evening recess of his trial. The man, who had been out on bail during the trial, had listened to the girl testify about how he had molested her. That night, he put a gun to his head and fired. The man survived the shooting and lingered in the hospital for several days.

Retelsdorf ordered that that trial continue — by law, a defendant cannot cause his own mistrial. A jury eventually convicted the man of sexual assault. He died from the gunshot injury before he could be sentenced.

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The differences between that case and this one: The man who overdosed this week is expected to recover. And this case is a bench trial, meaning that it will be decided by the judge. So the trial will resume whenever the Omaha man recovers and the judge has room on her docket.

Several longtime courthouse officials said suicide attempts during trials are rare.

The stepfather’s attorney, James Regan, said no one should assume that someone is guilty because he resorts to desperate actions.

“What would make you more panic-stricken — ‘They’re going to find out I did it’? Or ‘They’re going to convict me of something I didn’t do’?” Regan asked. “I know which one would bother me more.”

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Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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