Jennifer Valenta admits she lied, arrested on six counts
Gage County authorities dropped all charges against a Wymore man Friday and arrested the woman who accused him of a sexual assault on suspicion of lying about the incident.
The Gage County Attorney’s Office charged Jennifer Valenta of Wilber with perjury, false reporting, obstructing government operations, tampering with evidence and two counts of prostitution.
On Thursday, Valenta admitted to fabricating allegations that Elliot Hawkins, 48, and three other men gang raped her at Big Indian Recreation Area in southern Gage County, according to a news release from the county attorney’s office.
Hawkins’ attorney, Robert Kortus of Lincoln, said dismissal of the charges at the county attorney’s request did not come as a surprise.
“The hope was the truth would come out and the truth would vindicate him. And that seems to be what has happened,” Kortus said Friday night.
"I certainly am grateful they (the sheriff’s office) made the effort to keep the case open and investigate the facts of that allegation to determine whether they were truthful,” Kortus said.
According to the Gage County Attorney’s Office, an investigation revealed evidence did not support the allegations made by Valenta, 27. The investigation included numerous interviews, an examination of physical evidence gathered at the scene, DNA testing and a forensic examination of photographs of the injuries Valenta said she suffered during the reported assault.
Chief Deputy Gage County Attorney Rick Schreiner said a lot of time and money have been spent on the case. He said DNA testing was done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center because of a six-month wait at the State Crime Lab.
“I see it as an issue with restitution,” Schreiner said. “There’s a lot of money wrapped up in this, and I’m going to consider pursuing restitution as part of sentencing based on the cost of the investigation.”
Schreiner said Friday’s arrest isn’t the end of the story, and Hawkins still could face charges.
“We’re not totally ruling out filing a different charge on Elliot,” Schreiner said. “She agreed to have sex with him for money and as you can see, she’s charged with prostitution. And there’s two sides to prostitution.”
Kortus declined to comment on the possibility of future charges against Hawkins, but did say, “right now things are not as rosy as they might be.”
“Right now there is no solicitation charge against my client,” Kortus said.
Schreiner said he doesn’t believe the Gage County Sheriff’s Office acted too quickly in arresting Hawkins. He said it was his decision to proceed and “the system worked.”
“It was an excellent investigation,” Schreiner said. “It was a very fair investigation and it was a search for the truth. There’s a lot of credit that needs to go to those folks.”
Gage County Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said his office continues to look into the situation, but declined to elaborate.
“We’re still actively looking into it. I don’t want anything out there that is going to jeopardize that,” he said.
Gustafson said deputies reacted appropriately to the initial report of a sexual assault.
“Your No. 1 concern when you have a report of information that comes to you like that, the first concern you have is the safety of the alleged victim. So you act on that,” Gustafson said.
While the recent development didn’t quite surprise Gustafson, it did frustrate him, he said.
“It has taken a lot of taxpayer money and a lot of resources to investigate this. And to find out your victim was not up front with you is very frustrating,” Gustafson said.
Schreiner said he hopes the case doesn’t deter others from reporting sexual assaults, saying this was a rare case in which the accusations were false.
“We hope this doesn’t chill reports of sexual assault,” Schreiner said. “We want folks to know that we’ll pursue them vigorously and we’ll investigate them thoroughly in a search for the truth.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, that victim is telling us the truth and we want to pursue that case to close off any avenue of escape for that defendant so we have a solid case going forward.”
Valenta is set for her first court appearance on Monday.
Every civilized society must strive to (1) eradicate heinous crimes by punishing the offenders, and (2) insure that the innocent aren't punished along with the offenders. Too often, the second half of that balance is omitted from the public discourse. Accusations of serious criminality, especially murder and sexual wrongdoing, too often are their own convictions in the high court of public opinion because the stigma is so severe. It is our mission to raise awareness about the injustices suffered by persons wrongly accused of serious criminality. Protecting the innocent from unjust harm as a result of a wrongful accusation is a hallmark of a civilized society.