Charles Erwin Simants
Convicted in 1975 of killing six members of the Kellie family of Sutherland, Erwin Charles Simants should know in a few days if he will be released from the state psychiatric hospital in Lincoln. At a hearing in a Lancaster County court room on Sept. 24, Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands heard four psychological professionals say Simants is no longer mentally ill.
Rowlands is expected to issue a decision soon.
Simants, 66, is charged with the murders of six people in Sutherland on Oct. 18, 1975. After a protracted trail, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to a locked unit of the Lincoln Regional Center. He has been there for 34 years.
Each year, his status is reviewed in accordance with Nebraska laws.
At the first trial, a jury convicted Simants of all six slayings and sentenced him to death row. A mistrial was declared after it was learned that then Lincoln County Sheriff Gordon Gilster had played cards with jurors while they were sequestered.
In 1979, a jury verdict overturned Simants’ conviction and found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He has been at the Lincoln Regional Center since, instead of going to the penitentiary’s death row.
Under Nebraska state law, a person must be both mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others to remain in the regional center. In the past, Simants potential release was denied because at least one psychiatric professional had doubts about Simants’ mental state.
One of the professionals who evaluated Simants prior to this hearing was hired by Lincoln County Attorney Rebecca Harling and also said that Simants is mentally sound, after tests were conducted to determine if he is a risk to commit another crime.
One test showed he is a low risk, and another showed he is a low-to-moderate risk, according to testimony before Rowlands. And, separate evaluations showed he is not a pedophile.
The possibility of Simants’ release has set the survivors on edge.
The case is also known for setting a landmark legal precedent when judges agreed with defense attorneys that press coverage would interfere with Simants’ right to a fair trial.
Initially, judges restricted reporting on court proceedings, which started a legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court overturned the local decision, which was a big victory for the North Platte press, the Nebraska Press Association and open coverage of legal proceedings.