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A judge says the statements made to Lincoln police by a young man with autism accused of distributing child pornography can be used against him at trial.

Jack Eichorst, who was 18 at the time and now is 19, had sought to throw out evidence obtained by police investigators because they knew about and disregarded his developmental disability and interviewed him without his parents being there.

"The fact that the defendant was on the autism spectrum does not necessarily mean that he was unable to understand his rights," Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret wrote in an order last week.

At a hearing in November, defense attorney Sean Brennan argued that police knew Eichorst was on the autism spectrum but the fact was "completely ignored" by the officer who intercepted him as he left school at Lincoln Southwest High School and interviewed him at the police station Nov. 3, 2017.

Eichorst's parents and an attorney arrived at the police station during his interrogation and asked to speak with him, but the arresting officer prevented it until after he had given consent.

Brennan called James Sorrell, a psychiatrist, who reviewed Eichorst's medical records, interviewed him several times and concluded Eichorst has the cognitive and emotional sophistication of a 10- to 12-year-old, despite an IQ in the normal range.

After reviewing recordings of Eichorst's interactions with police, Sorrell said he believed Eichorst was "shocked and bewildered and could not see the 'big picture.'"

He said people on the autism spectrum often want to be understood and perceived as normal, which may have led Eichorst to be "overcompliant." 

On the other side, prosecutors with the Lancaster County Attorney's office called Eichorst's high school resource officer, Joseph Fisher, who saw the teenager almost every day.

Fisher testified Eichorst always was able to understand what they were talking about. Based on his interactions with Eichorst, Fisher said he believed that he could understand a Miranda advisement.

Investigator Chris Champoux, who questioned Eichorst, also testified that he didn't see anything to suggest Eichorst lacked the capacity to understand what was happening.

Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Chris Turner argued that Eichorst had made the choice freely and voluntarily to waive his rights and talk to police and to let them search his phone.

In an order last week, Maret agreed.

She said she considered Sorrell's testimony, but "based on the totality of the circumstances, including the court's own review of the video and audio from the interrogation room, the court finds that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily chose to waive his rights."

Maret said Eichorst's parents also couldn't invoke the right to counsel on his behalf. Only he could.

She did, however, find statements Eichorst made in the investigator's car on the way to the police station before he was read his Miranda rights inadmissible at trial.

In an affidavit for Eichorst's arrest in 2017, police said they found videos and images of children on his phone after he gave investigators permission to search it as they looked into a sex assault allegation by a 12-year-old boy.

Eichorst never was charged with the sex crime for which police initially arrested him.

According to Maret's order, police knew the 12-year-old accuser had made prior allegations of sexual assault and had a history of lying to police and his principal.

Eichorst is the son of former Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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