LINCOLN — Joshua Keadle, who had long been the prime suspect in the 2010 disappearance of a Peru State College student, was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder.
The body of Tyler Thomas, 19, was never found, and Keadle, a fellow student, maintained that he dropped her off at a remote boat launch on the Missouri River the night of Dec. 3.
The charges filed Tuesday against Keadle, 36, were a testament to the perseverance of the Thomas family, said Vince Powers, a Lincoln attorney who successfully won a $2.6 billion wrongful death lawsuit against Keadle over Tyler Thomas’ disappearance.
“They never gave up,” Powers said “Their concern was to keep the memory of their daughter alive so this day would come.”
Thomas’ mother, LaTanya Thomas of Omaha, was nearly speechless when contacted by a reporter on Tuesday afternoon.
“After the years go by you start to wonder if it’s going to happen — will he be charged, is there enough (evidence) to do it?” she said in a telephone interview.
“I just wanted justice for her. I couldn’t stop,” she said.
More than a year ago, the family’s attorney, Powers, had met with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson about the case. Peterson, who took office in 2015, pledged to look into the case.
Keadle is in prison serving a sentence for raping a 15-year-old girl while he was a student at Midland College in Fremont. He was scheduled to be eligible for parole from prison in 14 months.
Tyler Thomas, an Omaha native and captain of the Peru State dance team, had been reported missing by two students after she failed to return to her dormitory on Dec. 3, 2010.
Extensive searches by family members, volunteers, law enforcement and trained dog handlers in the following days were not successful.
In 2012, Keadle was sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison for first-degree sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Fremont in 2008.
In 2016, a six-woman jury in Nemaha County returned the $2.6 billion wrongful death verdict against Keadle and Peru State. Later, the Nebraska Supreme Court removed the college from liability, leaving Keadle, alone, responsible.
Powers said he felt the evidence he presented in the civil lawsuit would have been enough to attain a guilty verdict in a criminal prosecution, but that the Attorney General’s Office wanted to be even more sure.
The Lincoln defense attorney said he had promised the Thomas family that, if charges were not brought against Keadle, he would launch a petition drive to impanel a grand jury in Nemaha County to hear evidence in the slaying.
The Attorney General’s Office will prosecute the case, which was the product of investigations by the Nebraska State Patrol and Nemaha County Sheriff’s Office.