Not guilty ruling in a rare Municipal Court jury trial

By Jim Painter - For the Sidney Daily News

SIDNEY – A not guilty verdict was rendered in a rare jury trial in Sidney Municipal Court on Jan. 11. The case stemmed from an altercation between two inmates at the Shelby County Jail.

Justin P. Depinet, 36, Sidney, was found not guilty of assault, a first-degree misdemeanor, by an eight-member jury. Depinet was accused of assaulting Benjamin R. Fahnestock, 29, Sidney, on Sept. 14 in a commons area of the county jail.

The fight resulted in both men being charged in separate cases. Both were charged with assault, first-degree misdemeanors, in cases taken before Judge Duane Goettemoeller.

On Dec. 28, Fahnestock agreed to a lesser charge during a pretrial hearing. He pleaded no contest to a charge of assault, a second-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail commencing Feb. 1. He was also fined $250 and assessed court costs.

Online court records show the sentence will be served concurrently (at the same time) with a jail term he is currently serving. His incarceration is due to probation violations in two impaired driving convictions.

On May 29, Depinet was sentenced to 180 days in jail involving convictions for theft and escape, both first-degree misdemeanors.

According to Depinet’s court-appointed attorney Justin Griffis of Sidney, said video displayed to jurors showed his client sitting on a table when Fahnestock approached him from behind pulling him to the ground. Upon standing, verbal threats were supposedly exchanged when Fahnestock turned away and Depinet punched him in the back of the head resulting in a broken knuckle.

A fight ensued with no other inmate intervention. Griffis claims an officer in charge of video monitoring was unable to immediately view the scuffle with deputies separating the pair. Other minor injuries were sustained by Depinet, he said.

Griffis said it was a clear case of bullying and that his client was a victim of circumstance and atmosphere.

“The jury saw that the fight would not have occurred if the alleged victim hadn’t bullied him,” Griffis said.

By Jim Painter

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.