Cornell Belt is on his way to serve a term in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services after being sentenced on Wednesday in a case where he was originally charged with attempted murder.
The case arises from an incident on Dec. 24, 2019, according to the Affidavit for Custody. At 6:52 a.m., an officer from the Alliance Police Department responded to a report of a domestic disturbance in the 700 block of East Ninth Street.
According to the Affidavit, the officer learned through an investigation that a man identified as Cornell Belt came to his residence after a night of drinking with friends. When he arrived, he began yelling for his roommate, who lived in the basement, to fight him upstairs.
Belt was allegedly irate, according to the Affidavit, because he believed his wife was having an affair with their roommate. He went to the room where his wife and his daughter were staying and told them the house was on fire and to get out.
His wife told their daughter to go to a neighbor’s house after seeing a fire at the top of the stairs, which led to the basement where their roommate was staying. His wife then went to the kitchen, according to the affidavit, and saw Belt attempting to pull the gas stove from the wall, allegedly in an effort to break the gas line and cause an explosion. When she tried to stop him, he threatened to blow her up.
According to the Affidavit, an investigation revealed that the fire was started by Belt at the top of the stairs leading to the basement, “possibly with the intent to not allow (the roommate) from exiting the residence.” Later, officers interviewed Belt about the incident and he told them that if he had a firearm, he would have murdered his wife and their roommate.
Belt was arrested and charged with attempted murder, a class 2 felony, first degree arson, a class 2 felony, terroristic threats, a class 3A felony, committing child abuse intentionally, a class 3A felony, and domestic assault, a class 1 misdemeanor. Through a plea agreement, the attempted murder and child abuse charges were dropped, and Belt pleaded no contest to the remaining charges.
At Belt’s sentencing on Wednesday, Deputy County Attorney Larry Miller cited Belt’s criminal record in his recommendation for a prison sentence.
“To my surprise, Mr. Belt has a lengthy and substantial criminal history, and has a high risk on domestic violence,” said Miller. “He’s been to the penitentiary on three occasions. He’s very high risk to re-offend; very high risk on drug and alcohol. He’s not been successful on his two attempts at probation. These are very serious charges.”
Belt’s attorney, Stacy Bach, acknowledged Belt’s criminal history, but noted that there has been a gap in that record, with no criminal activity since 2008.
“For 12 years, he has been a law-abiding citizen,” Bach said. “There’s a reason for that: in 2008, when he finished serving his sentence, he sought treatment and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bipolar. That was when he went on his medications. Prior to that, he would get in trouble, and he just couldn’t explain his impulses. He couldn’t explain why he did what he did. There was no explanation for it. It wasn’t that he was trying to be good, bad or otherwise. He just had no explanation for it.”
Bach emphasized that while Belt was taking medication, he did not have any criminal activity, and noted that at the time of the incident, he was self-medicating with alcohol. She said Belt has not had any alcohol since the incident.
“I think it was a huge wake-up call for him,” said Bach. “He has not been able to speak with his daughter.”
Bach reiterated that Belt’s criminal activity spawns from not being medicated for his issues.
“You have all this hideous record up until 2008, then there’s nothing, virtually, from 2008 to present,” Bach said. “It’s because of the mental illness he suffers from. (…) I think he should be given a chance. I know these are serious crimes. I know that they are serious in nature. I think that he, at this age, 50 years old as he sits here today, I think there’s clearly a readiness to change in his lifestyle.”
Belt asked District Court Judge Travis O’Gorman for a chance to change, taking responsibility for his actions.
“Your Honor, I’m not trying to get out of this,” said Belt. “I had a lapse in judgment, and I put my daughter’s life in jeopardy. I’m just asking you to give me a chance to make this right. Whatever it takes. I realize that this was a bad thing, and I’m sorry.”
Judge O’Gorman said Belt had a concerning criminal history, but did take into consideration the period of time without any criminal activity.
“Your actions in this case, you know, I can’t overlook that,” Judge O’Gorman said. “You put three people in danger, including your own child. You damaged property, and you threatened two people with some very serious types of threats.”
Judge O’Gorman sentenced Belt to serve not less than four years and not more than seven years in prison, with credit for 12 days served. Assuming Belt loses no good time, he will be eligible for parole in two years, with a mandatory discharge in three and one half years.