Trial Set for Naponee Grandmother Charged in Child Abuse Death Case

Peter Draper

A trial date has been set for a Naponee, Neb., grandmother charged in the beating death of her toddler grandson last year.

Nancy Draper, 48, appeared in Webster County District Court Tuesday -- exactly one year to the day of 2-year-old Joseph Rinehart Junior's death.

She's one of three family members charged with intentional felony child abuse resulting in death after the toddler died from blunt force trauma to the head, abdomen and extremities at a Franklin hospital last April.

Also charged in the case -- the boy's grandfather, 48–year–old Peter Draper, and his mother, 25–year–old Laura Rinehart.

The family lived together in Naponee, along with Joseph's three siblings -- ranging in age from 1 to 4.

According to court records, Nancy Draper and Rinehart took Joseph to the hospital on April 30, 2012, complaining that he had spent the past three days vomiting and unable to hold down food.

By the end of the night, he was dead.

The coroner ruled his death a homicide, saying he had a skull fracture, bruising on his arms and legs, and an internal abdominal injury he described as a "perforation caused by blunt force trauma."

The other children were removed from the home and placed in protective custody.

In the days that followed, authorities interviewed Joseph's 4–year–old sister, who said she had witnessed her grandfather, Peter Draper, punch Joseph in the stomach and knock him to the ground on at least one occasion.

In court documents, investigators said there's no way Rinehart and Nancy Draper could have not known that Joseph was being abused.

But Nancy Draper's attorney says he doesn't think the prosecution has enough evidence.

"Juries are funny. I don't know, I honestly can't say how they're going to decide," attorney Don Theobald, said. "I don't think that the state has enough evidence to find that she's guilty of what they've charged her with."

Court documents show Rinehart also told police she had watched Peter Draper beat her son several times, even injuring him to the point once that his eye was swollen shut.

She also said he tried to stop her from taking the boy to the hospital, and that after his death, he told his wife and Rinehart not to tell authorities what he had done, and that if Rinehart did tell police, he would kill her.

Nancy Draper is being held at the Webster County Jail, while her husband is jailed in Franklin County, and her daughter, in Phelps County. They're being kept apart to limit their contact with each other, court documents say.

Nancy Draper's trial has been set for June 1 in Phelps County, and is expected to last five days.

Peter Draper's trial begins May 6 in Adams County.