The Nebraska Supreme Court says while a Sarpy County judge’s sentence for an Air Force master sergeant who tried to meet an underage girl for sex may have been lenient, it couldn’t conclude it was excessively so or an abuse of the judge’s discretion.
“In light of all relevant sentencing considerations, the sentence was not untenable, unreasonable, or clearly against justice or conscience, reason and evidence,” Justice John R. Freudenberg wrote in an opinion Friday, reversing a Nebraska Court of Appeals decision in Jason Gibson’s case in November.
In a split decision then, a three-judge panel of the appellate court vacated Gibson’s sentence of six months in county jail and five years’ probation as too lenient a punishment for attempted first-degree sexual assault of a child and sent his case back for re-sentencing.
Prosecutors say Gibson contacted a then-18-year-old DeArch Stubblefield in 2017 and set up sex with a 15-year-old girl. Stubblefield was a star football player for Bellevue West High School with no criminal history at the time. He was sentenced last year to 20 to 40 years in prison.
The appeals panel recognized Gibson's military service and his lack of a prior criminal history, but said "a term of probation depreciates the seriousness of the offense and promotes disrespect of the law.”
Gibson appealed to the state’s highest court.
In Friday’s decision, Freudenberg said, according to a pre-sentence investigation report, Gibson, who had served in the U.S. Air Force for 16 years, had been upfront with law enforcement from the beginning of the investigation, was by all accounts shocked to learn the girl’s real age and immediately accepted responsibility for his actions.
He said Gibson also expressed to the court that he was extremely remorseful for what the girl and her family were going through.
Whether Gibson was aware of it, the girl was being trafficked by Stubblefield, the justice said, and there is no justification for Gibson’s ignorance of the abuse.
“The crime committed by Gibson was serious, and that fact should not be diminished. However, a sentence should fit the offender and not merely the crime,” he wrote.