The gruesome story of a family murdered and then dismembered is back in the news as the trial for one of the suspects is underway in Omaha.
Vanderlei Szczepanik, his wife Jacqueline and their son Christopher went missing in December of 2009.
The first trial in this case ended with a surprise that helped lead the way for prosecutors to support a new trial against Jose “Carlos” Oliveira-Coutinho.
It was a case that nearly went cold; it was a trial that was basically a lock in a not guilty verdict for the defense.
That was until Valdeir Gonclaves-Santos confessed to the murders.
Brandon Shostak remembered being sworn in, sitting down and scribbling notes into his court appointed jury notebook right away during Santos’ trial last August. The details of the trial against Santos, accused of murdering the Szczepaniks at the time, were tedious, Shostak filled two notebooks.
However, Shostak said it became clear the evidence brought against Santos was moving quickly from black and white, to hazy at best. Something else also became evident, Santos was not the ringleader. “He's not the head honcho, the initial charges plastered on him didn't fit what people were testifying, or how he was reacting,” Shostak said.
In hindsight, Shostak said he watched Santos crumble as the trial wore on.
It started with the testimony of Santos' cellmate who said it seemed Santos would pray for retribution. "[He] saw him, praying at night, and crying, then starting out really stone cold, not answering any questions. [He] started answering questions like why was he there and that he felt guilty and he would tuck something, a picture behind his pillow and then cry at night and then be fine in the morning,” Shostak said.
The crack in the dam grew bigger Shostak explained, when Sanotos' wife agreed to testify against her husband. Santos told her that he was part of the plan to kill Vanderlei Szczepanik, in turn, Santos watched his wife testify against him. Ultimately, it was the breaking point in the case.
“They (cellmate, wife) were saying about the same stuff, emotionally and just breaking down, shortly after that, all of the sudden he’s is going to squeal, then things have changed,” Shostak said.
At that point, Shostak said if they were handed a verdict, Santos would have been handed a hung jury at worst and a not guilty verdict at best.
Goncalves-Santos is expected to testify as a state's witness against Oliveira-Coutinho during this trial. The wives of both men are also expected to testify.