Judge rejects defense’s lack of evidence argument in missing Peru State College student, sends case to trial

Judge rejects defense’s lack of evidence argument in missing Peru State College student, sends case to trial
Joshua Keadle, right, and defense attorney Jeff Pickens during a court appearance in Auburn in October 2017. (The Associated Press)

LINCOLN — The first-degree murder charge against Joshua Keadle in the disappearance of a Peru State College student will advance to the trial stage after a judge rejected an argument to dismiss the case.

Nemaha County Judge Curtis Maschman ordered Keadle bound over Tuesday and set an April 16 hearing for him to enter a plea to the charge.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has charged Keadle with the Dec. 3, 2010, death of Tyler Thomas, a 19-year-old from Omaha who was wrapping up her first semester at Peru State.

At a March 1 preliminary hearing, a law enforcement investigator testified that Keadle told authorities that he left Thomas alive near a remote boat ramp on the Missouri River. He said that she got angry and threatened to accuse him of raping her after he refused to drive her to Omaha.

Other investigators provided accounts from witnesses who say Keadle saw Thomas standing outside near her dormitory shortly before she disappeared.

Although her body was never found, the judge ruled that Assistant Attorney General Doug Warner submitted enough evidence to show that Thomas is dead.

Keadle’s lawyer argued that the prosecution did not meet the burden of probable cause by showing that Keadle killed the student. Instead, Jeff Pickens with the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy argued that the evidence could also support the conclusion that Thomas was intoxicated and fell in the Missouri River.

The judge said the state’s evidence supports that a crime was committed and Keadle is responsible, the minimum burden necessary to advance the case to trial.

“For purposes of preliminary hearing, the argument that the evidence would support alternative conclusions is not relevant,” Maschman said.

Keadle, 36, is currently serving 15 to 20 years in prison for an unrelated sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Dodge County. He becomes eligible for parole next year and is scheduled for mandatory release in 2021.

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