Woman gets 10 to 15 years in murder of truck driver

Woman gets 10 to 15 years in murder of truck driver

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First, Trena Arant lost her job and her children to methamphetamine.

On Tuesday, she lost her freedom.

And, for the second time in two weeks, James Hagan's family sat in the courtroom, listening to an attorney and a judge recount the drug-soaked violence that led to their loss a year ago at Shoemaker's Truck Stop west of Lincoln.

They heard how Arant and Kenny Gass, both high on methamphetamine, went to the truck stop to try to get money to buy more of the drug.

They heard how Arant got into Hagan's truck, followed by Gass, who stabbed him. How the two, who had met just a week earlier, dumped the 50-year-old Elsie trucker's body in a Seward County ditch, brought the truck back to Shoemaker's and cleaned it. How they stole Hagan's checks and left.

"It is clear methamphetamine has caused (Arant) to do something that ruined her life and caused the Hagan family to lose a husband, a father, an uncle," said Sean Brennan, her attorney.

Then Hagan's family heard Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt disregard Arant's request for intensive probation and sentence her to 10 to 15 years in prison for being an accessory to second-degree murder. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The Hagan family could not be reached to comment, and Arant's family members declined to comment.

Merritt also sentenced Arant to consecutive six-month terms in jail on three counts of misdemeanor forgery. The forgery sentences are also consecutive to the accessory charge. Merritt gave her credit for 369 days she's already spent in jail.

Last week, Merritt sentenced Gass to life in prison for second-degree murder.

Both Arant, 25, and Gass, 34, were originally charged with first-degree murder.

Hagan left his home on Sept. 4, 2003, and authorities found his truck at the truck stop four days later. His body was found Sept. 13 in a Seward County ditch. He'd been stabbed six times. Police later arrested Arant and Gass after the two forged Hagan's checks.

Prosecutors initially argued that Hagan was murdered while the two were carrying out a plot to rob Hagan, a form of first-degree murder. Later, prosecutors said they couldn't prove the robbery plot - and with it first-degree murder - and so agreed to reduce the charges.

Central to the reduced charge against Arant was a polygraph passed, Brennan said.

In it, she said she didn't know Gass was going to kill or rob Hagan.

Gass threatened her, Brennan said, and told her to get into Hagan's truck and have sex for money.

She made matters worse, Brennan said, by not reporting what had happened.

Before she was sentenced, a tearful Arant said she was sorry.

"If there was anything I could do to stop it, I would have," she said. "He wouldn't let me."

Brennan argued that his client, who was accepted into St. Monica's substance-abuse treatment program, should be sentenced to intensive probation so she could overcome her addiction and other problems.

She had a troubled childhood, he said, and grew up in California, Washington state and Missouri.

At 14, she got involved with a 19-year-old man who was physically abusive. The couple had three children and two years ago moved to Nebraska. When the man went to jail for domestic violence, Arant began using methamphetamine, Brennan said.

By September 2003, she was using it daily and had hooked up with those who used and sold the drug.

As he did in the Gass sentencing, Merritt acknowledged the role methamphetamine played in Hagan's murder. But he also noted the level of violence and said probation was inappropriate.

Assuming she receives the maximum time for good behavior in prison, she will be eligible for parole in about five years.

Gass, who was sentenced to life, could be eligible for parole in as little as 10 years if his attorney wins an appeal he's said he plans to file.

When Merritt initially sentenced Gass to life in prison he didn't impose a minimum number of years, which meant the minimum automatically became 20 years.

With time off for good behavior, Gass would be eligible for parole in 10 years.

Merritt amended the sentence to clarify that he did not intend Gass to be eligible for parole. In a similar case in Saunders County, the Nebraska Supreme Court said the original sentence should stand.

Reach Margaret Reist at 473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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