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Scottsbluff man's conviction and sentence overturned

A 34 year old Scottsbluff man's 2012 conviction and sentence for first-degree sexual assault of a child and four counts of felony child abuse has been overturned by the Nebraska Supreme Court on grounds of ineffective counsel. Eric Rocha was sentenced to a minimum of over 50 years in prison by Scotts Bluff County District Judge Leo Dobrovolny after his conviction in February, 2012 on all five counts.

On Friday, a majority of the state's high court agreed with Rocha that his trial attorney, the Scotts Bluff County Public Defender, was ineffective for, among other things, not seeking to have separate trials on the sex abuse and child abuse charges.

But Supreme Court Judges Kenneth Stephan and William Cassel said such arguments should be addressed in postconviction relief action, not a direct appeal.

Scotts Bluff County Attorney Doug Warner says "the case is not over from the state's perspective" and it will be prosecuted again, whether there is one or multiple trials.

Rocha was convicted by a District Court jury of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old child in a home and in a car. Rocha also was accused of striking three other children with a belt, and punching them in the ribs and nose.

The alleged abuse came to light after the children were interviewed by the state Department of Health and Human Services, and the Nebraska State Patrol. Rocha was in jail at the time on a domestic abuse charge.

Rocha was sentenced to forty years to life in prison for the sexual assault count, and three to five years in prison for each of the felony child abuse charges. Each sentence was to be served consecutively.

Court documents show the four children are now in state care.

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