Family Separated By Testimony

By: Gary Smollen Email
By: Gary Smollen Email

Sometimes we pay a heavy price for doing the right thing. Two women who testified in an Omaha murder trial are living proof of the old adage, but Lutheran Family Services is working to change all that.

"We all talk about justice and seeking justice, getting justice and we can't do that without people willing to cooperate, witnesses who are willing to come forward,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who added there was no deal for citizenship.

One of the women left her children in their grandparents’ care to come testify. Now those children could be in danger. Kleine’s office wants to ensure their safety so it reached out to Lutheran Family Services for help. Now there is hope their families will be relocated to the Heartland.

The Szczepanik murder trial was one of the more complicated cases in Douglas County history. The family disappeared in December 2009, was feared dead and there was little to no evidence to go on. The case hinged on the testimony of two women, wives of two of the suspects. The women stepped up and testified tearing their families apart. Now, there is new hope they could be reunited.

The Szczepaniks dreamed of helping others to a better life. They had been working hard on a school and the family home when they disappeared. It's is almost a certainty the men convicted of murdering them, Valdier Goncalves-Santos and Jose Oliveira-Coutinho, would have walked away if not for the testimony of their wives.

"They wanted to do the right thing and they came here to do the right thing and they followed through with it."

But one of the women left her children behind in Brazil to come testify and with the suspected third killer, Elias Lourenco-Batista, deported there have been threats to the women who testified and their families. All three suspects and their families are from the same area in Brazil.

Lutheran Family Services is stepping in to help reunite the family. Ruth Henneman says, "We did not have it in our budget to do this, but we decided we would do what we could with some generous donors we know in the community, that they would want to help also. To not see your children for over two years, to be separated from your children is very difficult for parents."

It is important to remember that this is just the start of the process, essentially hiring a Brazilian attorney to file the paperwork to reunite the families. Channel 6 News was asked not to name either of the women who testified at the murder trials or name their children.

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