LINCOLN — The upcoming trial of a man accused of murder in the 2010 disappearance of Peru State student Tyler Thomas has been moved to Beatrice.
A judge ruled Tuesday that the courthouse at Nemaha County, where Peru State is located, is inadequate to accommodate the expected three-week trial of Joshua Keadle, a 37-year-old former Peru State student.
District Judge Rick Schreiner ordered the trial moved to Gage County, where the courthouse in Beatrice has an elevator, a larger courtroom, and nearby meeting rooms and restrooms.
The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 16, and more than 100 potential jurors are expected to be called.
Thomas, 19, of Bellevue, disappeared in December 2010 after a night of partying in Peru. Keadle, then 29, initially denied having been with Thomas, the captain of the college dance team, on the night of her disappearance. But later, he acknowledged that he had driven her to a boat ramp on the nearby Missouri River.
He maintained that they engaged in consensual sex and then had an argument in which Thomas threatened to claim that she had been raped.
Keadle said he eventually drove away, leaving Thomas at the boat launch.
Thomas’ body has never been found, despite extensive searches of the river and nearby areas. The case went cold, despite the discovery of tire tracks at the boat launch that were similar to Keadle’s vehicle, as well as apparent drag marks leading to the river.
Meanwhile, in 2012, Keadle was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl while he was a student at Midland College in Fremont. And, in 2016, a jury in Nemaha County awarded the Thomas family $2.6 billion in damages from Keadle in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, who was elected in 2014, agreed to take another look at the case, which resulted in the filing of a first-degree murder charge against Keadle in 2017.
In his ruling, Schreiner rejected the arguments of Keadle’s court-appointed attorney that pretrial publicity warranted a change of venue for the trial.
Jeff Pickens of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy introduced questionnaires filled out by 268 potential jurors in Nemaha County showing that 42% of them had already formed an opinion about the case.
By law, those accused of crimes have a right to face a jury selected from the county in which the alleged offense occurred, except when it is determined that an impartial jury cannot be seated there or that the court facilities are inadequate.