LINCOLN — A former employee of the Beatrice State Developmental Center sent to prison for abusing center residents has been freed while he awaits a new trial.

Matthew Pangborn won a second trial in July after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down his conviction over an improper jury instruction. He was serving a prison sentence of 15 years to 23 years for abuse and strangulation of a vulnerable adults.

During a hearing Friday in Gage County District Court, a new jury trial for Pangborn was scheduled to begin Jan. 14. Pangborn, 32, of Beatrice, was released from custody after he paid a $5,000 bail.

Pangborn was one of five state caregivers convicted of resident abuse at the Beatrice center, which serves people with severe developmental disabilities and a host of mental and physical health problems. The four others received either prison or jail sentences after they pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Pangborn was the only one to maintain his innocence and take his case to trial in 2012. Jurors convicted him of seven felonies and two misdemeanors for either hitting or choking three different residents.

Several of Pangborn's former co-workers testified against him. One said other caregivers referred to him as the “dad of the unit.”

The abuse took place between May and August 2011 on a unit where eight developmentally disabled men lived. Five of the eight were victimized, investigators said.

Although there have been multiple cases of abuse and neglect documented at the center over the years, no staff members were ever convicted of felony charges until 2012.

At Pangborn's trial, Gage County District Judge Paul Korslund allowed deliberating jurors to refer to a “road map” of the case prepared by the prosecution. The high court said the judge should not have allowed the document to be used in deliberations.

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