Gov. Dave Heineman says a ruling that keeps mass murderer Erwin Charles Simants in the custody of a psychiatric ward makes Nebraska safer.
Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands found Simants remains mentally ill, despite evaluations by psychiatrists that clear him of mental illness.
Heineman says Simants, who killed six members of a western Nebraska family in 1975, should never be released from the Lincoln Regional Center.
“My reaction is, I think, like most Nebraskans, I’m greatly relieved to know that he won’t be on the streets of some Nebraska community,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference at the Capitol. “We’re safer because he’s going to continue to be monitored.”
Simants killed six members of the Henry Kellie family in their rural Sutherland home on October 18th of 1975.
Simants killed Henry and Marie Kellie and their 32-year-old son, David. Also killed were three of the Kellie’s grandchildren: 10-year-old Florence, 7-year-old Deanna, and 5-year-old Daniel. Autopsies disclosed the grandmother and one of the granddaughters were sexually assaulted after they died.
Simants had done odd jobs for Henry Kellie over the years. He lived next door.
A jury initially found Simants guilty, but the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the verdict when it came to light that the sheriff had played cards with jurors who had been sequestered during the trial.
A second trial found Simants not guilty by reason of mental illness.
He has been confined to the Lincoln Regional Center since 1979.
Simants, now 68, receives a mental evaluation annually. In September, four psychiatrists cleared him of mental illness, setting up his possible release.
In his ruling, Judge Rowlands found that Simants has learned during his time at the psychiatric ward how to act and what to say which will put him in the most favorable light.
“I think that’s a great concern and something we have to be worried about every day,” says Gov. Heineman. “The men and women who are criminals, who are prisoners in our correctional system, are very good at playing these kinds of games and we need to be very, very careful. It’s real easy to say it’s a mental illness or whatever and you have to realize these individuals are skillful at playing the system.”
The attorney for Simants could appeal the ruling.
AUDIO: Gov. Dave Heineman reacts to the Simants ruling. [:15]