LINCOLN — A former staff member at the Beatrice State Developmental Center has been convicted of abusing three mentally disabled men in his care.
Matthew Pangborn, 32, of Beatrice pleaded no contest Tuesday to three counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult and two counts of strangulation. Pangborn faces up to five years in prison on each of the counts, all of which are felonies.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris agreed to the dismissal of four other charges, including two misdemeanors. The plea agreement did not include sentencing recommendations, Harris said.
“We thought we achieved justice,” he said. “There were three victims, and we got a felony conviction for each.”
The cost of a second trial, which Harris estimated at $10,000, also weighed into the decision. Plus, there was no guarantee that a second jury would vote to convict, Harris said.
Jeff Adams of Omaha, whose son, Michael, was among the residents targeted by Pangborn, said he could accept the plea bargain. He said he now hopes the judge will sentence Pangborn to serious prison time.
Pangborn was serving a sentence of 15 to 23 years after a jury convicted him in 2012 of nine charges related to abuse.
The Beatrice center serves people with severe developmental disabilities and other mental and physical health problems.
Pangborn won a second trial in July, after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down his convictions.
At the first trial, Gage County District Judge Paul Korslund allowed jurors to refer to a “road map” of the case prepared by the prosecution. The high court ruled that the document should not have been used during deliberations.
The prosecution had been gearing up for a second trial, which was to begin next week. But the sides reached the plea bargain late last week, and Pangborn followed through Tuesday with the no contest pleas.
Korslund declared Pangborn guilty of the five felonies and ordered sentencing for Feb. 26.
Pangborn was one of five state caregivers convicted of abusing residents at the Beatrice center. The four others received prison or jail sentences after pleading guilty to reduced charges.
Several of Pangborn’s former co-workers testified against him. One said he was referred to as the “dad of the unit.”
The abuse took place between May and August 2011 in a unit where eight developmentally disabled men lived. Five of the eight were victimized, investigators said.
Although there have been multiple cases of abuse and neglect documented at the Beatrice center over the years, no staff member was convicted of a felony until 2012.