Judges to Decide Death Penalty for Szczepanik Killer
Either death row or life in prison, that's the fate for the man convicted of murdering the Szczepanik family in Omaha years ago. A three judge panel will decide if Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho will face the death penalty.Photo: Video by kmtv.com
Either death row or life in prison, that's the fate for the man convicted of murdering the Szczepanik family in Omaha years ago. A three judge panel will decide if Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho will face the death penalty.
Judge Thomas Otepka of Douglas County, Judge William Zastera of Sarpy County, and Judge Mark Kozisek of Brown County heard arguments from both sides Thursday at the Douglas County Courthouse.
The defense contends that Jose Carlos Oliveira-Coutinho wasn't the person who beat Vanderlei Szczepanik to death, nor was he there when Jacqueline and Christopher Szczepanik were hanged. They say it happened at the hand of the other accomplices Valdier Gonclaves-Santos and Elias Lourenco-Batista. The prosecution argued to the judges that Oliveira-Coutinho pressured the others into it, and "every step wasn't by his hands, but every step was at his hands".
"The evidence showed and I think the jury believed that this defendant was the most sophisticated of the group who seemed to be the leader of the group who the other people worked for," said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.
The defense also argued that others in Douglas County who've committed worse on their own are not on death row, and that in Oliveira-Coutinho’s native country of Brazil there is no death penalty. The prosecution said they were crimes against a family living in the State of Nebraska.
"If there's going to be a death penalty on the books this is certainly a case that we feel warrants it because of the nature of the case,” Kleine explained.
Oliveira-Coutinho was convicted of murdering the Szczepanik family in October 2012. The jury also felt that there were aggravating circumstances which made him eligible for the death penalty. Judge Otepka, Judge Zastera, and Judge Kozisek will now weigh the arguments and make a decision in the future.
Of the two accomplices, Valdier Gonclaves-Santos received 20 years for his testimony, and Elias Lourenco-Batista is still at large in Brazil. The Douglas County Attorney’s Office says there are three murder warrants out for Lourenco-Batista.