Admitted Szczepanik Killer Gets 20 Years
A judge sentenced Valdeir Goncalves-Santos to 20 years for his role in the Szczepanik family murders. Attorneys on both sides say this is a case like no other.Photo: Video by kmtv.com
Omaha - A judge sentenced Valdeir Goncalves-Santos to 20 years for his role in the Szczepanik family murders. He'll likely only spend 7 ½ years behind bars, with time served.
The Vanderlei, Jacqueline, and 7-year-old Christopher Szczepanik went missing in 2009. Prosecutors say three men tortured the family before dumping their bodies in the Missouri River. The body of young Christopher was found two years later.
Authorities say normally these circumstances would warrant decades of incarceration, but both sides agreed what Goncalves-Santos helped them accomplish is rare. Without his confession, family members say they may never have found out what actually happened.
There was about one day left in his 2011 murder trial when Goncalves-Santos confessed to what happened. His defense attorney said there was no physical evidence against his client, and he may have been found not guilty of the crimes if the trial continued.
"He never talked anything about time it was all about trying to get closure for the family, about telling the truth,” Goncalves-Santos’ attorney Kevin Ryan explained. “And for him to say I don't want to go to a verdict, which potentially could be not guilty and send me home for the rest of my life. He said I want to tell the truth no matter what, and that was a remarkable moment.”
Goncalves-Santos detailed the 2009 murders at the former Central Christian School building, led police to blood evidence of the father, Vanderlei Szczepanik, and his son Christopher's skeletal remains. He also testified against the mastermind, Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho.
"It's critical. We couldn't have done it without that testimony," Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine described.
Jacqueline's daughter Tatiane Klein says it's still very hard, but if it wasn't for Valdeir's cooperation none of the convictions would've happened.
"This one was at least touched on his humanity side to come out and assume what he has done as the other ones don't show much remorse," Tatiane said through an interpreter.
Tatiane says she will continue her fight for her family since the final accused murder, Elias Lourenco-Batista, is still on the loose.
"She wants to keep on fighting for the other one to be brought to justice," Tatiane’s interpreter concluded.
As for tracking down Elias Lourenco-Batista, three international murder warrants have been issued. Don Kleine says the Brazilian government is not willing to extradite the suspect because there is no treaty. Kleine says he's been trying to get help from the US Congressional Delegation, and Interpol.
Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho was convicted in October on three counts of First Degree Murder with Aggravated Circumstances. He’s awaiting a three judge panel to decide whether or not he will get the death penalty.