Erwin Charles Simants will remain a resident at the Lincoln Regional Center as he has been for more than four decades.
Judge Michael Piccolo ruled Wednesday afternoon that the 74-year-old — who shot and killed six members of a Sutherland family in 1975 — is still mentally ill and dangerous during an annual competency evaluation in Lincoln County District Court.
Piccolo also ruled against the possibility of Simants being moved to an inpatient or nursing home facility within the next year.
It was the 45th hearing for Simants since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in his second trial for the crime. He was charged with killing Henry and Marie Kellie, their son, David, and three of their grandchildren — Daniel, Deanna and Florence — on Oct. 15, 1975.
Simants waived his right to appear at the hearing years ago. Simants’ lawyer, Robert Lindemeier, said his client suffers from diabetes and degenerating joint problems. He added that Simants feels the regional center might be the best place for him to continue to receive medical treatment.
Lindemeier also said he believes his client no longer poses a threat to the public.
“He hasn’t had any sort of activity that could be considered threatening (at the regional center) and he hasn’t acted out,” Lindemeier said. “He has been compliant and cooperative over the last 30 years.
“I don’t think he’s a danger, but when you look at what happened in the original case, yes, it’s understandable why the judge finds him dangerous.”
Deputy Lincoln County Attorney Tanya Roberts-Connick stated her concerns about Simants being moved to another facility and added, “I don’t know that, especially in the time of the pandemic, that there really is a viable option” to send him to.
Piccolo did approve the continuation of family visits for Simants as well as a handful of outings that are supervised by regional center staff. Simants has requested visits by a non-family member, but Piccolo held off on a ruling on that pending a criminal background check on that person.
North Platte residents Karla Downey and Sylvia Hansen, the daughters of Audrey Brown, the only surviving daughter of Henry and Marie Kellie, both attended Wednesday’s hearing.
Their father, Melvin Brown, is in an assisted living facility, but listened to the hearing by telephone.
Downey said while the family has some confidence that Simants will never be released, she added, “I think we hope that, but we also still catch our breath every year.
His “release is always in the back of our minds as a family. It has been a fear all these years,” Downey said. “My mom, for several nights before the hearing, she wouldn’t sleep. In the end that’s partially what took her — that anxiety along with her asthma. It was the nerves of all of these years of all of the situation and having to relive it.”
Audrey Brown died in 2018.
Downey said while family members will continue to be a presence in future annual hearings, there continues to be no interest in reaching out to Simants or meeting with him.
“No,” Downey said. “I have no desire and Mom had no desire to, either. She forgave him at the time it happened, but that didn’t mean she wanted to spend any time with him.
“We feel the same way. I don’t feel like he would have anything to say at this point that would make anything better or make us feel different about what he did and the violent way he did it. That’s not going to change.”