A judge has rejected an all-out blitz to dismiss a felony witness tampering charge against sports psychologist and University of Nebraska Regent Jack Stark.
On Friday, Douglas County Judge Craig McDermott ordered Stark, 75, to stand trial over allegations that he tampered with a witness when he contacted former Husker fullback Willie Miller about his plans to testify on behalf of a former Omaha gym owner who was facing a sexual assault charge. Miller told police that Stark called him a day after Stark found out that Miller would testify as a character witness in the trial of Douglas Anders.
Anders’ trial was 10 days away.
According to Miller, Stark told him not to show up to testify on behalf of Anders. Stark himself was scheduled to testify on the opposing side — as a character witness on behalf of the then-teenage girl who alleged that Anders sexually assaulted her at his former gym. Stark had counseled the young woman, an aspiring Olympic weightlifter, on sports performance.
Miller is in an advanced nursing degree program at Creighton University. Stark had served as a sports psychologist for the University of Nebraska — including during the time that Miller was a Husker fullback from 1996 to 2000 — and has since done the same for Creighton.
“All these great things you have going on right now, being at Creighton, I can make that very difficult,” Stark said, according to Miller.
Stark denies that he threatened Miller. But McDermott found that prosecutors with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office had submitted enough evidence to bind the case over for trial. Such a finding — probable cause to believe that a defendant committed a crime — is lower than the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for conviction.
Now that the case is in district court, Stark’s attorney, Michael Coyle, will likely file a plea-in-abatement — a motion that essentially asks a district judge to overturn a county judge’s decision to order a case to trial.
Using poster boards with blown-up exhibits usually reserved for trial, Coyle had tried to attack the legitimacy of the charge. He argued, among other things, that Stark could not have committed felony witness tampering because Miller had not even been subpoenaed at the point that Stark reached out to Miller.
In a subsequent brief, he also noted that the vast majority of witness tampering cases involve a defendant trying to dissuade witnesses from testifying against him. This case did not involve that circumstance.
Prosecutor Michael Guinan, an assistant attorney general, pointed out that the reason Stark spoke with Miller was because he had just found out from the prosecutor in Anders’ case that Miller was to be a witness on Anders’ behalf. Hence the witness tampering charge.
Miller ended up testifying on behalf of Anders. Miller, who vouched for Anders’ character, said that Anders could not have sexually assaulted the teen, though he acknowledged he had not worked out at Anders’ gym every time the girl did.
Judge Timothy Burns — tasked with deciding the case after Anders elected to have a judge rather than a jury decide his fate — ruled that the teen was credible and found Anders guilty. He sentenced Anders, 60, to the equivalent of 12½ to 15 years in prison.
Coyle issued a statement after the judge’s decision to order Stark to trial.
“While disappointed with the decision of the Douglas County Court to bind this matter over to District Court, we recognize the minimal burden required of the State of Nebraska to achieve this result,” he said. “We look forward to clearing Dr. Stark’s good name in the District Court.”
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In this Series
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