LINCOLN — Joshua Keadle was sentenced to 71 years to life in prison Wednesday for the murder of a fellow Peru State College student a decade ago.

Keadle, now 38, was sentenced Wednesday by Gage County District Court Judge Rick Schreiner. He will be eligible for parole in 35 years.

Keadle was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury in February in the death of Tyler Thomas, a student from Omaha who was captain of the southeast Nebraska college’s dance team. 

Thomas' family hugged and cried after the sentence was announced.

Kevin Semans, Thomas' father, made a statement before the sentence was read.

"Part of us died when she died," he said. "Joshua Keadle does not deserve any leniency for what he has done. Not a shred."

The judge said that even when viewed in the best light, Keadle was responsible for Thomas' death.

Schreiner said that instead of looking after her safety, Keadle chose to look after his own interests.

Thomas, 19, disappeared on Dec. 3, 2010, after an early morning visit with Keadle to a boat launch on the Missouri River just a couple miles from the Peru State campus.

Her body was never found, which complicated the investigation, which went cold after months of searches.

In 2016, the Nebraska Attorney General's office took a new look at the case at the urging of Thomas' family. That led to the arrest of Keadle, who had been a person of interest in the disappearance and by then was serving time in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Fremont in 2008, while Keadle was a college student there. 

Keadle, who did not testify at his trial, initially told investigators he was not with Thomas on the night she disappeared. Later, he changed his story, saying that he had offered to give Thomas a ride to Omaha in exchange for a sex act. But he said she later reneged on the arrangement, and after an argument broke out, he left her behind at the boat ramp.

The sentencing hearing had been delayed the sentencing until Wednesday because of COVID-19 concerns.

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