Virgil Apodaca, Sr.
Virgil Apodaca, Sr. of North Platte no longer faces a rape charge, but prosecutors continue to say he aided and abetted such an assault and gave a controlled substance to a minor.
Apodaca, 44, was initailly charged after three women in their late teens told police that they were drugged and raped, some repeatedly, at two separate parties on May 12 -- one at 1303 East Sixth and another one later at 420 West F.
Based on statements and medical examinations, Apodaca became the prime suspect. He was charged with first-degree sexual assault on May 17.
Within weeks, three of his sons -- Virgil Jr., Jeromy and Anthony -- were also arrested. Each son was charged with aiding and abetting first-degree sexual assault, with each count carrying a maximum of 50 years imprisonment.
But charges were dropped Nov. 29 against two sons, Jeromy and Anthony, when Lincoln County Judge Michael Piccolo said the evidence against the sons was insufficient to proceed to trail.
On Thursday, county prosecutors presented the evidence against the senior Apodaca to Piccolo in a preliminary hearing.
At the outset, the Lincoln County Deputy Attorney Tanya Roberts-Connick said that first-degree sexual assault charges were reduced to aiding and abetting first-degree sexual assault.
Also, Roberts-Connick said Apodaca was initially charged with procuring for a minor, but the charge was increased to two counts of distributing a controlled substance.
If convicted of any of those charges, Apodaca could also be classified as an habitual criminal, which would increase his sentence.
In court, defense attorney Pat Hays said that the alleged victims changed their story each time they were interviewed by Police Investigator Roger Freeze.
At first, one of the women told Freeze that she only remembered being at on party on East Sixth, but in a later interview said she remembered riding along in a car with Virgil Apodaca Sr. and son Virgil Jr. to a second party on West F, Hays said.
Hays said in yet another interview, the woman told Freeze she recalled being in the basement of the house on West F.
The woman also told Freeze that a drink given her by Virgil Sr. was in a glass jar. Hays noted that police found and tested plastic cups, not glass jars, from the house. The plastic cups contained a drug, according to lab tests, but Hays said even then, at most Apodaca would have only given a controlled substance to one person, not two, casting doubt on the accuracy of the investigation and the charges.
Hays also pointed out that Freeze’s investigation report says the girls tried to leave the house on F Street but some other men showed up and kept them from leaving before the assaults allegedly occurred. Statements from witnesses do not show that Apodaca was one of the men who stopped the women from leaving, nor that he participated in alleged assaults, Hays said.
Hays closed, saying the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to proceed and all charges against Apodaca should be dropped.
Roberts-Connick stuck by the revised charges. She said the investigation makes it clear that Apodaca gave the women a controlled substance and that he knew the assaults were happening and did nothing to stop them. For those reasons the charges should stand and the case should proceed toward trial, she said.
Lincoln County Judge Michael Piccolo took it under advisement.
“I want to read all these notes again very carefully,” Piccolo said.
Piccolo also delayed decisions on binding rape charges against two other men -- Virgil Apodaca, Jr. and Anthony Nunnenkamp -- to district court. The two defendants contested the charges a week ago.
For the second week in a row, Piccolo said would announce his decision within 10 days.
In other county court action Thursday:
Dylan DiGiovanni, 20, of North Platte, was in court for a contested preliminary hearing on charges of theft. The Lincoln County Attorney’s Office changed the charges, dropping a charge of accessory to a felony and changing one theft charge to a lesser felony.
DiGiovanni allegedly stole items from Miller Repair in Maxwell from November 2011 to October 2012, as well as a purse from a car, and was implicated in the theft of laptops reportedly stolen in August from the Maxwell school.
The county attorney’s office is pressing two theft charges against DiGiovanni, who waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Piccolo bound the case over to district court.
Charges against Aaron Smith, 19, of North Platte, will proceed to district court. Smith is charged with burglary and possessing burglary tools.
Defense attorney Blaine Gillette asked for a bond reduction and Piccolo lowered Smith’s bond from $50,000 to $25,000.
Brandi Hackbart, 35, of North Platte, waived her right to a preliminary hearing for theft by deception and her case was bound over to district court.
Defense attorney Martin Troshynski told Judge Piccolo that he would like the court to go out of its normal boundaries and lower Hackbart’s $15,000 bond because she cannot afford much and she has mental health problems to deal with.
Deputy Lincoln County Attorney Jennifer Wellan had no objection to that as long as Hackbart is required to report daily to the sheriff’s office.
Piccolo agreed to lower the bond below the usual halfway point and set it at $5,000.