Santa Clara man accused of aggravated sexual abuse appears in court on multiple first-degree felonies

2019 file photo for illustrative purposes only of Santa Clara-Ivins Police units responding to a store in Santa Clara, Utah, Feb. 16, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Santa Clara man appeared in court last week facing three first-degree felony sexual abuse-related charges following an investigation into reports alleging the molestation of three children that took place over the span of nearly two decades, police say.

In this 2020 file photo for illustrative purposes only a Santa Clara-Ivins Police cruiser parks in front of the original Ivins City Hall on Oct. 1, 2020 in Ivins City, Utah. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

On Dec. 6, Craig Steven Nebeker, appeared in 5th District Court facing three first-degree felony charges, including two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and one count of sodomy on a child. The hearing was held to review the warrant that was issued prior to the defendant’s arrest that took place shortly after 3 p.m. on Dec. 6. Charges were filed shortly thereafter.

According to the affidavit filed with the courts, the warrant for the suspect’s arrest initially was issued Dec. 2, following an investigation by the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department that was opened after police received a call in April.

According to the affidavit filed with the courts, officers were called last April to investigate a report alleging that Nebeker had inappropriately touched a child and had exposed himself to her on more than one occasion. The incidents took place between 2011 and 2013 when the child was 4-6 years old. Several interviews conducted by investigators indicated that Nebeker had inappropriately touched the child and forced the child to do the same, along with allegations of Nebeker allegedly performing sexual acts upon the child during a number of visits to the suspect’s home.

Additionally, the child reportedly witnessed what was described as the sexual assault of another child who was also a relative of the victim, an assault the witness stated took place in the living room of Nebeker’s home.

When detectives set out to determine if the incident involving the second child was ever reported, they found a report from September 2019 involving a complainant who reported she was molested by Nebeker more than 20 years before, abuse that occurred multiple times when she was 10-11 years of age. Officers also learned the reporting party, who was now an adult, was living out of state, the affidavit says.

Through a number of interviews, detectives later determined that what began as inappropriate touching then reportedly escalated into sexual assaults that left the youngster “immobilized by fear,” investigators noted in the report.

Police also say it was one such assault that was reportedly witnessed by the child who came forward years later and who described to investigators during a recent interview what they had witnessed as they walked through the living room of the suspect’s home.

Detectives learned of a third child who was reportedly abused by Nebeker more than 20 years prior and was reported to police in December 2019. The report contained information indicating Nebeker had touched the child in a sexual manner on at least two separate occasions.

Detectives conducted multiple interviews and obtained corroborating evidence that tied together all three reports and was sufficient to support the allegations of all three victims, including the party who reached out to authorities in April, as well as two previous reports received in 2019. Each was filed two months apart and ultimately led to the case being filed with the Washington County Attorney’s Office.

It was shortly thereafter that Nebeker was arrested and booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on the three charges.

In regards to the two reports received in 2019, St. George News reached out to Santa Clara-Ivins Police Sgt. Reed Briggs, who said both reports were investigated, but detectives were hampered by a lack of any corroborating witnesses and insufficient evidence. He also said that each of the parties reported the abuse independently of one another, and it wasn’t until they received the call from the third victim that investigators were able to tie all three reports together.

Stock image of Purgatory Correctional Facility in Washington County, Utah | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Moreover, he said, the third report also opened up additional information that was followed up on by detectives, which then led them to evidence that included witness statements from multiple sources that further corroborated the statements made by each of the three parties.

Briggs went on to say that police need probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant, such as what happened in this case, which requires more than a mere suspicion that a suspect has committed a crime. Instead, it must be based on facts – not assumptions – to avoid arresting someone on the statement of another.

“We can’t just go out and make an arrest just because someone called and said they committed a crime,” Briggs said. “We have to have something to corroborate the allegations as well as evidence to show support that a crime has occurred.”

Additionally, he said, it also provided investigators with multiple reports containing similar acts of abuse, as well as a timeline that fit between the parties. At that point, he said, investigators had enough evidence to submit the case to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review. Shortly thereafter, the charges were filed by the state and the warrant was issued for the suspect’s arrest.

According to Washington County Prosecutor Zachary Weiland, the two previous reports filed in 2019 were listed in the affidavit, but it appears that in this case, as in other cases, the prior reports on their own did not appear to reach the standard required for probable cause, and without further evidence, he said, what the detectives were left with was insufficient to make an arrest or to submit the case for review.

Another obstacle was the extended amount of time that transpired between when the incidents took place and when they were reported, which in two of the cases was a span of more than 20 years. That delay, he said, can leave investigators with a lack of witnesses and little evidence.

Weiland went on to say that in this case, it was likely the third report that blew the investigation open and ultimately led to the warrant and the filing of the charges. He also mentioned a legislative change that removed the statute of limitations for the most serious sex crimes, including those involving children, that took effect in 2013 and could have directly impacted two of the reports containing allegations of abuse that took place between 1990 and 2000.

Prior to the change in Utah law, he said, any abuse that took place more than seven years before would exceed the statute of limitations – which would have prevented the filing any charges.

Following the arrest, Nebeker is scheduled to appear in court for a roll call hearing Dec. 20, and he remains in custody on $60,000 bail at the writing of this report.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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