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Jury rules not guilty

By GREG SCELLIN
Signal Editor

A Fillmore County District Court jury of four men and eight women found a former Ohiowa man not guilty on two felony counts of Child Abuse on Wednesday afternoon.  Jurors deliberated for less than an hour and half before reaching a decision in the case.
Matthew S. Vodicka, 29, formerly of Ohiowa and now of Dunbar was charged with two counts of Commit Child Abuse, intentionally/injury, both Class 2 felonies for alleged events that happened to his daughter between March and October 2016. The charges carried possible prison terms of up to 50 years. An October 21, 2016, Children's Hospital social worker's call to the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office (FCSO) began the investigation.  A Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) investigator then went to the Omaha hospital and looked into the situation involving the six-month old daughter of Vodicka and Molly Klabunde. The child was reported to have a broken left femur bone, broken arm in the healing stage, broken ribs and other bone fractures.
The jury trial began last Monday with Vodicka being represented by Seward attorney Chad Wythers.  Nebraska Attorney General's Office attorney William Tangeman led the prosecution for the case. FCSO deputy Steve Roemmich testified on October 29 that he received the call from the Children's Hospital social worker and then interviewed the baby's in-home child care provider Brandee Domeier of Shickley. Eventually, six to eight other clients were contacted with all of them reported no problems with Domeier's day care and trusted it.
Roemmich then testified he obtained a search warrant for Vodicka's residence where he took photos and confiscated baby toys.  The FCSO investigation determined that Domeier, Klabunde and Vodicka were the only care providers for the child leading up to the time she was taken to the hospital in Omaha.
On Tuesday, Domeier testified she didn't hurt the child and didn't see any accidents that could have caused broken bones. Domeier's husband and the couple's landlords also testified they didn't cause or see any actions that could have caused the baby's injuries.  Klabunde testified that her and Vodicka were engaged in January of 2016 and moved to Ohiowa.  She also testified that she did not cause the baby's injuries and could not recall any incidents that could have resulted in the injuries.
NSP investigator Charles O'Callaghan testified on Tuesday afternoon.  O'Callaghan interviewed Vodicka on October 21, 2016, at Children's Hospital. The veteran investigator was able to get the defendant uncomfortable and angry.  Vodicka yelled he would never hurt his daughter and she meant the world to him.  He also angrily admitted he sometimes became upset when the baby cried and would always try to get Klabunde in these situations. The prosecution played a second taped O'Callaghan interview to the jury in its entirety. NSP investigator Paul Smoot also interviewed Vodicka on October 27, 2016.  The defendant was also moved to anger during this interview and became loud and aggressive.  Vodicka again mentioned some aggressive handling of the baby and handing her to Molly.
Wythers argued Vodicka's anger was from the repeated questioning and that he maintained his innocence even during these moments of anger.  He also said his client's words must be taken in context and not just sound bites.
On Wednesday, a Children's Hospital doctor testified on the timing of the injuries to the baby.  She said the child's injuries were in different stages of healing which indicates a higher risk of child abuse taking place.  She also testified that the injuries could result in some physical deformities in the future because of damage to the bone's growth plates.
The prosecution rested its case at 11:30 a.m., on Wednesday. Vodicka did not testify.
State AG's Office attorney Ryan Swaroff told the jury on Wednesday afternoon during closing arguments that Vodicka was the only one who could have harmed the baby and admitted several times to grabbing the child aggressively.  She also noted that only the baby could truly give the facts in this case and tell what happened.
Wythers noted in his closing argument that the prosecution's case is circumstantial and that several people could have caused the baby's injuries.  He also reminded the jury to take his client's words in their entirety.  He also labeled the entire case as a 'witch hunt.'
The jury was given their instructions and began deliberation at 3:10 p.m.  Fillmore County Attorney Jill Cunningham was also at the prosecution table during the trial.  Fillmore County District Court Judge Vicky Johnson presided over the trial.  She also informed the jury that they could return four types of child abuse convictions for the charges if they so determined.
Vodicka wept uncontrollably when the verdict was read Wednesday afternoon around 4:30 p.m.