Plea Deal Gets Murder Suspect Lesser Sentence

Meghan McRoberts


The second of three men to be sentenced in the murder of a family in Omaha was in court Friday.

Valdier Goncalves Santos was handed a sentence of 20 years in prison. He's eligible for parole after ten, but also has more than 900 days of credit for time served.

Some say it's a considerably low punishment, given the gruesomeness of the murder he was involved with.

Investigators say Jacqueline, Vanderlei, and their son Christopher Szczepanik went missing in 2009. Soon after, they were no longer considered missing, but murdered. Investigators say the three men were involved in a torturous murder, that also involved forcing the family to hand over money and signed checks.

Santos, as well as Jose Oliveira Coutinho, and Elias Laurenco Batista were arrested and charged for involvement in the family's murder.

During Santos' trial, his attorney Kevin Ryan said there was little evidence against him. Yet, Santos took a plea deal to lessen his charge in exchange for information on what happened to the Szczepanik family. Santos told investigators where they could find blood evidence and skeletal remains. They say he also helped them discover where Vanderlei and Christopher's missing bodies were.

In exchange for that information, Santos was only charged with one count of second degree murder. For family, they do feel some justice from the lessened sentence.

The Szczepanik's daughter, Tatiane Klein, said Friday through a translator, "It's still very hard but she understands if it wasn't for his cooperation, none of the sentences would happen at all."

Santos' attorney agreed, and said Santos is still extremely emotional and remorseful. "He never talked about wanting to get less time, he never talked about any of that. It was all about trying to get closure for the family," said Ryan.

From the evidence found, the other two men do face tougher consequences. Just over a month ago, a jury found Jose Oliveira Coutinho guilty of three counts of murder for each of the Szczepaniks. He is being considered for the death penalty, but no time frame has been decided on when that decision might happen.

The final man, Elias Laurenco Batista is currently living in Brazil. Douglas County officials have been working with the Brazilian government to have him sent back to face his charges. They've issued an international arrest warrant, but say the Brazilian government is not cooperating. They are working with U.S. Senators and Congress to get some international help.