A Fremont man was sentenced to six years in prison on three charges related to a series of domestic abuse incidents — and the victim has come forward to the Fremont Tribune to express frustration regarding the case.
The man, Jason R. Hopson, 33, was set for a bench trial on Thursday, but in the last week arrived at a plea deal with prosecutors, and he ultimately pleaded and was sentenced on Tuesday morning. He pleaded no contest on three counts: attempted first degree domestic assault, strangulation and first degree false imprisonment, all class IIIA felonies, which carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
As part of a joint recommendation agreed on by both sides, Hopson received the maximum three-year sentence on each of the three charges, but the strangulation and first degree false imprisonment sentences will be served concurrently. The attempted first degree domestic assault charge was sentenced consecutively, so all three sentences combined amount to six years.
Hopson also received credit for 315 days previously served, and under Nebraska’s Good Time Law, would serve at least one and a half years on each of the three sentences — so, with the possibility of good time, Hopson could be out of prison in three years.
He will also receive 18 months of post-release supervision on each charge, all served concurrently, and is required to take a batterers’ intervention program and moral reconation therapy.
Numerous charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
The earliest information on file had Hopson facing 16 charges, and the latest amended information filed on Sept. 5 before the plea deal, listed 14. Charges that were ultimately dropped included first-degree assault — a class II felony with a maximum sentence of 50 years — as well felony charges of sexual assault, child abuse, terroristic threats and an animal cruelty charge related to the deaths of one of the victim's cats, which she blames on Hopson.
In providing the factual basis for the charges presented in court, Chief Deputy Attorney for Dodge County Sara Sopinski told the court that on Oct. 25, 2017, Hopson dragged his then-girlfriend, Lilly Kinkade, who has identified herself to the Tribune, by her hair into the bathroom. He closed the door, prevented her from leaving and repeatedly beat her. Hopson then strangled Kinkade until she was unconscious. He then performed CPR until Kinkade regained consciousness, before strangling her a second time until she lost consciousness again.
Kinkade suffered from fractured thyroid cartilage, severe bruising and now has seizures as a result of the incident, Sopinski said.
A police affidavit outlines additional incidents that Kinkade relayed in an Oct. 26 interview with law enforcement -- on Oct. 15, for instance, Hopson allegedly struck Kinkade in the face and told her to tell people that she was injured while working as a bartender. On Oct. 24, he allegedly assaulted her in the presence of her three children, striking her once while Kinkade was holding a child.
The charges related to those alleged incidents were ultimately dropped with the plea agreement.
The Fremont Tribune has a general policy of withholding the identities of domestic violence victims when reporting on the courts, but Kinkade said she wanted to go on the record to voice her frustrations that the case didn’t proceed to trial as previously planned — and that her request to read a victim impact statement in open court was denied.
“I really wanted to give a statement in open court, a victim impact statement, which is my right, however the [District Court Judge Geoffrey Hall] refused to hear it and would only read it [himself],” said Kinkade, who was present in court. “So that did not give me a voice at all.”
She was frustrated that Hopson was given an opportunity to make a comment during open court proceedings while she was not. Hopson declined to comment in court.
Sopinski told the Tribune that it’s common for victims to write such statements, but usually that’s part of a pre-sentencing investigation that’s ordered by the judge to determine whether an offender is eligible for probation. The judge would traditionally read that statement in advance of the sentencing hearing without necessarily reading it onto the record. In this case, no investigation was ordered in Hopson’s case because there was an agreed upon sentence as part of the plea deal. Sopinski said she had suggested to Kinkade that she write the letter and told Hall that Kinkade would like to read the letter in open court, but that Kinkade chose not to when she learned it would not be read on the record.
Sopinski confirmed that Hall did say he would read the letter on his own before sentencing -- ”He was going to wait and read it as long as it took before coming to court,” she said.
Moreover, Kinkade said she was “not OK with the plea agreement,” and would have preferred to take Hopson’s longer list of charges to court. She said she was prepared to testify, had multiple doctors ready to testify and also wanted to have her daughter testify.
“I believe that we would have won a lot of the charges; I don’t believe we would have won all of them because it’s not a perfect world,” she said, adding, “However, I am uncomfortable with Judge Hall’s history as far as sentencing goes.”
Kinkade maintains that the county attorney’s office told her that Hall has a history of lenient sentences with regard to domestic assault crimes, and that the county attorney’s office pursued a plea deal because “they would rather have [Hopson] serve something than no time,” she said.
Sopinski, however, denied that her office ever raised concerns about Hall. Instead, she said, it was Kinkade who had raised those concerns.
“The notion that my office told her Judge Hall would handle the case any different than any other judge isn’t true -- we didn’t present that; she brought specific concerns to us about Judge Hall,” Sopinski said.
Sopinski did warn Kinkade that some charges would likely not be convicted on if the case went to trial because there were issues with the evidence, but “that’s not anything about Judge Hall,” she said. Further, Sopinski added that Kinkade was “involved every step of the way” in the development of the plea deal.
Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass confirmed that Sopinski had worked closely with Kinkade on the agreement.
“Sara went over this plea agreement, at least to the best of my knowledge, multiple times with Lilly and Lilly’s response was she absolutely wanted to take the plea agreement because it would hold [Hopson] accountable,” Glass said.
Kinkade told the Tribune that she’s dissatisfied with the sentence that was served and believed that there was evidence for tougher charges. With the possibility of good time, Hopson could be out of prison in three years, and Kinkade fears that he’s a threat to public safety.
“I think that our legal system is broken,” she said. “I think that the reason why people don’t report domestic violence and sexual assault is because of situations like this, where nonviolent offenders are put in prison for 10 years or more, and given maximum sentences, while violent offenders are given almost no time and allowed to take plea deals that protect them.”