Erwin Charles Simants, who killed 6 in 1975, could be released from psychiatric care -
Published Friday, September 27, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:38 pm
Erwin Charles Simants, who killed 6 in 1975, could be released from psychiatric care

LINCOLN — The day Audrey Brown has dreaded for nearly four decades may soon come to pass.

Erwin Charles Simants, who in 1975 killed six members of her family in Sutherland, Neb., could soon walk out of the state's psychiatric hospital a free man.

At a court hearing this week in Lincoln, four psychological professionals agreed that one of the state's most notorious killers is not mentally ill. A judge is expected to rule on the petition for release within a month.

In 1979, a jury found Simants not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was committed to the Lincoln Regional Center.

Brown, 75, of North Platte said she has attended every annual mental health hearing for Simants, whose case was known not only for its depravity but also for setting a landmark legal precedent.

At past hearings, his release has been denied because at least one evaluator expressed doubt about his mental state.

Brown said Simants is now closer than he's ever been to getting out.

“I'm afraid,” she said. “He murdered six people. I believe he still needs to be locked up.”

When reached by phone Thursday afternoon at the Regional Center, Simants, 67, declined to answer all but one question: What would he tell those who say he should never see freedom again?

“I understand their feelings is all I can say,” Simants said.

North Platte attorney Robert Lindemeier, appointed to represent Simants, said state law requires a person to be both mentally ill and a danger to himself or others to remain under commitment.

Although a psychiatrist testified at the trial that Simants was schizophrenic, staff members at the Regional Center have never agreed with the diagnosis, Lindemeier said.

They said he is an alcoholic who may have experienced a psychotic break.

One of the professionals who evaluated Simants in advance of this week's hearing was hired by Lincoln County Attorney Rebecca Harling. That psychologist also found him to be mentally sound.

Simants also underwent tests that attempt to predict whether he would commit another criminal act. One test found him to be a low risk to reoffend and the other deemed him a low to moderate risk, Lindemeier said. Other evaluations determined that he is not a pedophile.

Lindemeier said hospital staff members testified that Simants has been a model patient over the past 35 years. He follows rules and holds down a food preparation job at the center.

Documents in his case file indicate that Simants understands the crime he committed and has expressed remorse for it, Lindemeier said.

“He's never acted out, never been threatening to anyone,” he said.

It's a description that's hard for Brown to reconcile.

On Oct. 18, 1975, Simants used a rifle to shoot six members of a family who lived on the north edge of Sutherland, a farm and ranch community of 1,000 people about 20 miles west of North Platte.

For Brown, who was living in Colorado at the time, the loss was staggering: her parents, Henry and Marie Kellie; her brother, David; her nieces Florence, 10, and Deanne, 7; and her nephew, Daniel, 5.

Simants also sexually assaulted Marie and Florence Kellie.

After the slayings, the 29-year-old unemployed farm worker drank at two local bars before spending the night hiding in brush near the Kellie home. He was arrested the next morning.

At his first trial, a jury convicted him of six counts of murder and he was sentenced to death row. But his convictions were overturned after it was learned that the sheriff had paid social visits to members of the jury, who were sequestered during the trial.

The second trial led to the mental health commitment.

Siding with defense attorneys who said press coverage would jeopardize Simants' right to a fair trial, judges restricted reporting on the case. That triggered a legal fight that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, the high court unanimously overturned the Nebraska rulings and struck a victory for a free press and open coverage of legal proceedings.

The horrific murders have long cast a pall over Sutherland. Although time has winnowed the number of residents with direct memory of the killings, it has done little to dull emotions for those who do remember.

Pat Thomas, 67, said Thursday that he can clearly recall the fear and shock upon learning the Kellies had been killed.

“I don't care whether he's sane or not,” Thomas said. “I know it's not a Christian thing to say, but I think he should live out his years not being a member of society.”

If Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands decides to order Simants' release, there is no plan that would provide temporary supervision or a gradual transition to freedom, Lindemeier said. He called that a shortcoming of the system that both he and his client have asked to be addressed.

Simants has family members who have stayed in contact with him over the years, Lindemeier said.

“I think his intent would be to go somewhere and try to live quietly, probably as far away from Lincoln County, Nebraska, as possible,” he said.

Brown said she argues for Simants' continued detention not as a measure of revenge, but out of a sincere concern that if he did something so unspeakable once, he could do it again.

“And some other family would suffer,” she said, “again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

Read more related stories
Some city streets remain closed
EB L Street lane to close
Owners of exotic dance bar deny prostitution allegations
More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
Nebraska's U.S. Senate candidates stick to familiar topics at Omaha forum
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
< >
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »