- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Supreme Court refused in a ruling released Friday to overturn the conviction of a man found guilty of fatally beating his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in 2008.

The court rejected Dustin Chauncey’s arguments about insufficient probable cause to indict him and disagreed that a prosecutor’s trial statements regarding DNA testing should have merited the mistrial Chauncey’s lawyer requested then.

The prosecution and defense lawyers didn’t immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

Chauncey was sentenced to 80 years to life after being convicted in February 2015 of child abuse resulting in the death of Juliette Geurts. Chauncey and Juliette’s mother, Charyse Geurts, were living together in Gering in July 2008 when the girl was found dead in her bed. Autopsy results revealed she died from internal organ damage caused by blunt force trauma.

Juliette’s mother twice refused to testify at Chauncey’s trial and was found in contempt of court after she claimed her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She refused to testify even after the judge granted immunity.

Among other points in his appeal, Chauncey said there wasn’t enough probable cause for a grand jury to indict him, so he should not have been prosecuted. The Supreme Court concluded, however, that any error in the trial court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause “was cured by the trial jury’s finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Regarding the DNA evidence, a man who was in jail with Chauncey in 2014 testified that Chauncey said the girl had interrupted him and her mother having sex, so he kicked and punched Juliette as he picked her up and returned her to her bed. Chauncey said in his appeal that the DNA evidence should not have been admitted because a state expert couldn’t establish when the sperm got on the girl’s shirt.

Chauncey also said the prosecutor shouldn’t have mentioned it during his opening argument because the judge had yet to rule on its admissibility and could have prejudiced jurors because they might have mistakenly assumed the child was sexually assaulted.

The high court rejected the arguments, saying the judge ordered jurors to ignore the initial mention and later ruled that the DNA evidence would be admissible.

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