A female runner threatened by a gunman years before had no intention of speaking at his November 2017 Nebraska Board of Parole hearing.
In an email to the board, the Omaha woman wrote that she suffers lasting effects from the encounter with Jeremiah Connelly and did not want to devote “time and energy” to him.
“You had no right,” she wrote in the email, read aloud at the hearing by a Parole Board member. “I fear things now that I did not fear before. You stole my positive view of the world and how I thought people should act to one another. You deserve to stay in jail.”
He did — for seven more months. But in June, the board voted to let him out of prison, even though he had not completed a violence-reduction program the Parole Board had wanted him to complete. Even though the Parole Board chairwoman, who did not attend the hearing, put a note in his file saying Connelly would not be a good candidate for parole.
The five-member board granted Connelly parole with the minimum three votes. He had served 12 years in prison and would have been automatically released Nov. 23.
Three months after the board’s June vote, authorities allege, Connelly kidnapped, raped and killed another Omaha woman, then dumped her body in Fremont. Officials had said Connelly planned to do the same thing in 2005 to the female runner.
Connelly is being held without bail on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in connection with the Sept. 17 slaying of 22-year-old Jeanna Wilcoxen. Authorities have said he told Omaha police what he had done five days later when he was stopped by police on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.
In 2005, Connelly committed a series of crimes within a few days. He threatened the runner at gunpoint, set fire to a vehicle, robbed a gas station and tried to punch a judge. He was sentenced to 15 to 22 years for those crimes. Under state sentencing guidelines, he would have had to have been released after 11 years — half of the maximum sentence — but he had to serve additional time after he assaulted an inmate in prison.
Connelly accosted the then-22-year-old runner while she was running near the Henry Doorly Zoo. He pointed a gun at her and ordered her into his car. She was able to run away to a woman driving a van, who helped her call police.
In her letter, the runner wrote that she did not want Connelly to be granted parole.
“I fear for our public safety,” she wrote. “I fear for me. I am a strong woman, but he has taken something from me that I cannot just replace or fill. He should not be allowed to be in the public sphere.”
In an interview with The World-Herald, the runner’s husband said he doesn’t know the inner workings and pressures faced by Parole Board members and said he believes that the board members made the decision they felt was right. But he emphasized that his wife’s view about Connelly’s parole was clear.
The June hearing lasted for about 7½ minutes, according to an audio recording of the public portion of the hearing. About halfway through, the board went into executive session for additional discussion. An executive session is not public, and it’s unclear how long the members were speaking off the record. The board later came out of executive session and voted 3-1 to place Connelly on parole.
Parole Board Chairwoman Rosalyn Cotton said the board often goes into executive session to talk about an inmate’s institutional file, which is not public.
One of the main reasons the board deferred Connelly’s November hearing to June was so he could complete the violence-reduction program, according to documents obtained through a public records request. By June, for whatever reason, he had not completed it. According to some board members’ notes of the hearing, Connelly either refused or could not finish that program. During the June hearing, Connelly told members that he did not refuse to complete the program.
In a note she put in Connelly’s file three weeks before the June 25 hearing, Cotton wrote, “Since he refused both (the violence-reduction program and another program), he would not be a good candidate for parole.”
Cotton declined to comment on Connelly’s hearing because she was not there. Vice Chairman Layne Gissler was the lone “no” vote.
The five parole board members — Cotton, Gissler, Rex Richard, Teresa Bittinger and Virgil Patlan — are appointed to the board by the governor and serve six-year terms. They are paid a yearly salary.
Connelly did complete his GED and career readiness, anger management, workforce development and life skills programs. He told the board that he hadn’t received a misconduct report in five years and had been held in minimum custody.
“I haven’t interrupted anyone’s life like I did in 2005,” he wrote in a 2016 letter to the board. “I do realize that I also caused certain emotions in these people, and they will be forever different because of me. I don’t want to remind them of anything. I do want to remind myself of what it’s like to have a normal life and a 9-5 job.”
Under the terms of his parole, Connelly was required to have electronic monitoring and attend substance-abuse programs, both of which are special conditions of general parole, Cotton said. The board approved his mother’s Omaha home as an acceptable residence.
Connelly was to be on parole until Nov. 23, when the state was required to release him.
Cotton said parole offers people a transition to the real world while allowing the state to continue to monitor their behavior.
“If they have done what they are supposed to do, the board will give them that time to transition,” she said. “Some time on parole for supervision is better than nothing.”
Connelly’s mother, Christine Schomer, and stepfather, Joel Schomer, both appeared at the November and June hearings in support. They spoke during the November hearing and expressed anger and frustration when it appeared that the board was going to defer the case until June.
Christine Schomer noted that her sister, Janine Cutaia, whose vehicle was set on fire by Connelly during his crime spree in 2005, had written letters of support.
“He has a home to come to, and has all our support,” Christine Schomer wrote to the board last October.
Joel Schomer also wrote a letter to the board.
“(It’s) time for him to move on with his life all he wants is (a) chance to prove himself and start over and move forward,” Joel Schomer wrote. “We will help our son anyway we can, give him a chance he won’t disappoint you.”
When reached by telephone, Christine Schomer hung up on a reporter, and the couple didn’t return additional messages.
The June hearing ended with board members advising Connelly to stay on a straight path. It’s difficult to tell from the audio recording of the hearing who was speaking.
“I’ll be watching for you; I’ll be looking out,” a board member told Connelly. “Hopefully, nothing will come through, and you’ll just complete your parole and never come back to prison.”
“Right. Thank you,” Connelly said.
“All right. Good luck,” another board member said.
“Thank you,” Connelly said. “I appreciate it.”