Austin Widhalm sentenced for brutal assault

Austin Widhalm (Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office)

A 27-year-old man in Nebraska will spend at least a decade behind bars for helping to kidnap and torture a man over stolen drugs. The victim was beaten nearly to death and had the word “thief” branded on his skin with a blowtorch before being tied up to a tree and left to die in a rural country area.

Lancaster County District Judge Susan I. Strong on Thursday ordered Austin Widhalm to serve a sentence of 16 to 22 years in a state correctional facility over the gruesome attack, authorities confirmed to Law&Crime.

Widhalm pleaded no contest last month to one count of second-degree assault and one count of first-degree false imprisonment. Strong sentenced Widhalm to 14 to 19 years on the assault charge and two to three years on the false imprisonment charge, to be served consecutively, meaning one after the other.

Widhalm’s co-defendant in the case, Tanner Danielson, pleaded no contest in June to one count of attempted kidnapping and one count of first-degree sexual assault. Strong sentenced Danielson last week to 40 to 50 years on the first count and 30 to 40 years on the second count, with the two sentences running concurrently.

Tanner Danielson (Lancaster County Sheriff's Office)

Tanner Danielson (Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office)

As reflected in the sentencing disparity between the two co-defendants, prosecutors on Thursday conceded that Widhalm was not the primary culprit in the “horrific” attack but said he “participated in a major way,” according to a report from the Lincoln Journal Star.

“Frankly, had he not done so, I doubt that, at least on that night, these events would have gone down as they did,” Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Jeff Mathers said.

Judge Strong reportedly also scolded Widhalm from the bench before formally handing down the sentence.

“There’s no doubt you did have a substantial role in the event,” Strong said.

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