With a new judge, and for the first year without the only surviving member of the family he killed, it was decided Wednesday that Erwin Charles Simants will remain at the Lincoln Regional Center. Simants killed six members of the Kellie family in Sutherland on Oct. 18, 1975.

Simants, now 72, did not appear at his annual competency evaluation in Lincoln County District Court, where he was tried once for the murders and found guilty, only to appeal, be retried in Lancaster County and found not guilty by reason of insanity. His yearly hearings are required by state statute, and he’s waived his appearance for years.

On Wednesday, County Attorney Rebecca Harling gave an update.

“Pretty much, we’re at status quo,” she said.

Simants remains in a residential transition unit at the facility Lincoln. He never leaves unless accompanied by a relative or staff members, Harling said.

When Simants does leave, law enforcement is always notified.

“He continues to exhibit exemplary behavior,” said Simants’ defense lawyer, Robert Lindemeier.

District Judge Michael Piccolo said he spent “considerable time” on Tuesday reading Simants’ case. Piccolo replaced Judge Donald Rowlands last week. Rowlands presided over the annual hearings before his retirement in late July.

“The defendant is still mentally ill and dangerous,” Piccolo said.

He ordered that Simants stay in the Lincoln Regional Center unless he leaves for medical reasons, outings with staff at the facility or visits with one niece.

The last surviving Kellie family member, Audrey Brown, had attended almost every one of the annual hearings. When Simants was 29, he killed her parents, Henry and Audrey Marie Kellie; their son David, 32; and the Kellies’ three grandchildren Florence, 10, Deanna, 7, and Daniel, 5, in the Kellies’ home.

Simants was the neighbor’s relative, had done work for the Kellie family and was paying off a debt to Henry Kellie for bail money, Brown’s daughters said. 

Audrey Brown died April 30. Less than two months later, Rowlands — who had said that as long as he was on the bench, Simants would remain in Lincoln — announced his retirement.

But in Audrey’s place on Wednesday came her husband, Melvin Brown, daughters Sylvia Hansen and Karla Downey, and relatives from Colorado. 

“When people are afraid of the boogeyman, the boogeyman doesn’t really have a face,” Downey said. “Our boogeyman has a face. And a name.”

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