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Jury Convicts Man of Kidnapping Girl Nearly Four Years Ago

March 20, 1991

MADISON, Neb. (AP) _ A man indicted after a mother demanded a grand jury investigation into her daughter’s disappearance was convicted Wednesday of kidnapping the girl, but her parents say the verdict fails to end things.

They still want to know what happened to the blue-eyed, blonde 9-year-old who disappeared in 1987.

David Phelps, 27, was found guilty of one count of kidnapping with intent to sexually assault a child.

Joyce Cutshall, the missing girl’s mother, clapped her hands silently as the verdict was read.

″We got half of what we wanted. Now we have to work on the other half and that’s to get Jill back,″ Ms. Cutshall said.

Jill Cutshall was last seen early Aug. 13, 1987, waiting on the porch steps of her baby sitter’s home in Norfolk, a northeast Nebraska community of about 12,000.

Phelps showed no emotion as the verdict was read in Madison County District Court. He was led away in handcuffs.

The jury deliberated about 10 hours over two days.

Judge Richard Garden ordered a presentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for April 26. Phelps faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Defense attorney David Domina said an appeal would be considered. ″Obviously I’m disappointed. I’m frankly surprised,″ Domina said.

Phelps, formerly of Norfolk, was arrested last summer in Iowa.

He was indicted by a grand jury convened after Ms. Cutshall, frustrated by what she considered lack of progress in the case, spent weekends at malls and stores collecting enough signatures to petition the court under state law for a grand jury investigation into her daughter’s disappearance.

Roger Cutshall, the missing girl’s father, said he felt no satisfaction over the verdict.

″Whether he’s guilty or not, we still don’t know where she is,″ he said. ″Now that he is guilty, it might give us something more to work with. We can still hope for an answer.″

Jill has never been found, but a hunter discovered some of her clothes at the Wood Duck Wildlife area in nearby Stanton County a few months after she disappeared.

Much of the three-week trial focused on a videotaped statement Phelps gave to an Omaha television crew in January 1989. On the tape, which was played for the jury, Phelps said he held Jill at the wildlife area while another man molested her.

The other man, Kermit Baumgartner, 64, now of Lodi, Calif., took the stand and denied having anything to do with the girl’s disappearance. Baumgartner testified he was a former homosexual lover of Phelps.

Phelps later recanted the videotaped statement. The defense claimed a private investigator pressured Phelps into the statement.

The investigator, Roy Stephens, had testified that he fired a gun into the air out of frustration while questioning Phelps at the wildlife area.

Stephens said Wednesday he felt he had been justified in his actions ″that I’ve done part of what I’ve set out to do and hopefully now people will see that and understand.″

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