Merrick Co. jury’s sexual assault verdict reversed; new trial ordered

Feb. 6, 2024, 5:14 p.m. ·

State vs Tourtillott Court of Appeals filing
Court of Appeals Memorandum filed by Nebraska Attorney General in State vs Tourtillott

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A man imprisoned for the past year after being convicted of sexual assault in Merrick County will get a new trial.

In a very unusual move, Nebraska’s Attorney General filed a memorandum with the Nebraska Court of Appeals stating testimony that helped put 63-year-old Jack Tourtillott of Chapman in jail should not have been heard by the jury. The attorney recommended the jury’s guilty verdict be reversed.

The court did so in January.

In 2021 charges were filed by Merrick County Attorney Aaron Kunz against Tourtillott after a 20-year-old woman claimed she had been assaulted as a child ten years earlier.

At a one-day trial in November 2022, only two witnesses were heard: the accuser and Merrick County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandi Coufal. Court records show the officer testified Tourtillott denied the allegations, but in her opinion, the man’s behavior showed “signs of deception.”

According to the memo filed by the Attorney General, Coufal testified that the suspect “appeared to be nervous during the interview… but it was ‘nothing too excessive’ and was not beyond what is reasonably expected when someone is being questioned by law enforcement.”

While trained in conducting informational interviews as an investigator, the deputy was not a trained “forensic interviewer.” Tourtillott’s attorney objected during the trial, but the judge allowed the opinion to be considered by the jury which quickly returned a guilty verdict.

Tourtillott was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison and was listed on the state’s sex offender registry. Sent to the Tecumseh Correctional Center, he has continued to maintain his innocence.

Tourtillott asked for a new trial in a filing to the Court of Appeals.

Assistant Attorney General Nathan Liss reviewed the evidence presented at the trial and found parts of Deputy Coufal’s testimony should not have been considered by the jury.

In his memo to the court, Liss wrote:

  • In this case, there was no physical evidence or any other corroboration of A.N.’s allegations in this case. There were only two witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the alleged incidents, A.N. and Tourtillott, and they gave conflicting accounts of what happened. Their respective credibility was obviously vital to the case, so it would be difficult to say that Coufal’s inadmissible opinion about Tourtillott displaying “signs of deception” during his interview was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Attorney General’s filing led the Court of Appeals to reverse the jury’s guilty verdict.

On Monday, Merrick County District Court Judge Rachel Daugherty scheduled Tourtillott’s new trial in June.

Excerpt from Attorney General's memorandum to the Court of Appeals.
An excerpt from the Nebraska Attorney General's memorandum to the Court of Appeals suggesting a new trial.