ST. GEORGE — A Santa Clara man who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing multiple children for more than two decades sat stoically in a 5th District courtroom last week. After several victim impact statements were read, he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.

64-year-old Craig Steven Nebeker leaves the courtroom with the bailiffs following a sentencing hearing on three first-degree felony charges related held in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

On Thursday, the defendant, 64-year-old Craig Steven Nebeker, appeared in 5th District Court for sentencing on three first-degree felony charges that included two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and one count of sodomy on a child.

Nebeker pleaded guilty to the three charges during a hearing held Oct. 3, while a fourth second-degree felony aggravated sexual abuse of a child was dismissed in a plea bargain.

When asked, the defendant admitted to the charges “on a factual basis,” during the hearing held in October. After which, District Judge Jay Winward ordered that Nebeker turn himself into the jail, where he would remain until sentencing.

Three reports, one investigation 

The case was filed on Dec. 1, 2022, following an investigation by the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department that opened after police received a call in April 2022 alleging that Nebeker had inappropriately touched and exposed himself to a child multiple times in 2011, when the youth was 4-6 years old.

The first report led investigators to a second child who was reportedly sexually assaulted by the defendant during that same time period, then to a third child. The accounts were corroborated through a series of interviews and corroborating evidence. Detectives then combined the three cases,

The sentence to be served

Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger represented the state during a sentencing hearing for Steven Nebeker, on three first-degree felony charges in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The prosecutor, Jerry Jaeger, argued for consecutive sentencing, which would be an 18-year sentence collectively, argued that Nebeker held a position of trust, “a trust the defendant betrayed.”

Defense Attorney Trevor Terry asked for concurrent sentencing, or a six-year minimum, based on his client’s age and health conditions that could be made worse if subjected to a lengthy prison sentence.

Innocence betrayed 

The three complainants read their victim-impact statements during the hearing, as Nebeker looked straight ahead void of any expression.

The first party described how they have waited nearly 30 years to tell their story, saying the defendant robbed them of their childhood for his own selfish needs. That childhood ended at the age of 6, and the tremendous burden of keeping such secrets led to suicidal thoughts by the time the child was 7 years old.

It was her stubborn resilience and titanium moral compass that helped her to survive, she said.

The second party said the abuse occurred when they were very young, prompting a cyclical nightmare that continued until they gathered up the courage to report the abuse in 2109.

For the third party, their trust was shattered — and has yet to return even to this day.

The Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department

During the sentencing hearing, lead investigators Santa Clara-Ivins Police Lt. Jaron Studley and Detective Jennifer Bates were seated in the court gallery during the proceedings. Studley said the attendance was in a show of support.

“We want these families to know that even though the investigation is over we are still there to support them,” Studley said.

For Bates, the crimes committed by the defendant were “egregious incidents involving children that have spanned over a time frame of 30 years,” she wrote in an email sent to St. George News.

Justice is decades in the making 

While the three prison terms of six years to life had been stipulated by the parties prior to the plea hearing held last month, the primary issue was whether the sentences on each of the counts would run concurrent or consecutive. For Nebeker, this would mean the difference between serving a minimum of six years or 18 years before he would be eligible for parole.

Ultimately, Nebeker was sentenced to serve three terms of six years to life in Utah State Prison. The judge ordered the sentences to run consecutively. As such, the defendant will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least 18 years.

The judge’s decision pleased the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department, Bates said in the email.

“Justice has been served today for the victims involved,” Bates said.

While the Board of Pardons and Parole ultimately determines an inmate’s release date, the term of confinement as ordered by Winward means that Nebeker will not be eligible for release until 2041. At that point, he will be 82 years old.

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