AUBURN, Neb – A Nemaha County jury was asked at trial to place a value on the life of Tyler Thomas, who was a 19-year-old freshman at Peru State College when she was presumed murdered at the Peru bock dock on Dec. 3, 2010.
The jury returned a verdict Wednesday answering attorney Vince Power’s question at $2.6 billion.
The jury, which was comprised of one black and five white women, heard testimony from Thomas’s family describing her home life as a child, her dreams attending college and the impact of her disappearance on them all.
“It’s a sad day,” Powers said of the trial. “It will be a good day for these folks. They will know what is the sanctity of life in this community – the value of it.”
The verdict is largely symbolic as the defendant, Joshua Keadle is currently serving a sentence in state prison for an unrelated rape in 2008.
Of the total, $2.4 billion is in punitive damages. Under Nebraska law, punitive damages are paid to the local school district.
Powers said because of that law, punitive damages are rarely sought in Nebraska courts. He said the Nemaha County jury may be the first to ever set punitive damages setting a value on a human life.
Keadle claimed Fifth Amendment protections at his deposition and did not testify at the trial.
Family members described Thomas as a happy girl who was an important part of their family life.
When asked when he is reminded of his daughter, Kevin Semans answered whenever it’s cold.
Semans: “Because he left her out there in the cold, by herself. I couldn’t do anything to help her.”
Semans said Thomas had expressed to him that she might leave college, but he urged her to “stick it out.” Powers asked the jury to try and understand the agony of a father who now wishes he had done something different.
Her brother, Dillon, cousin Kanetta and grandmother Eva Thomas described the impact on their family.
Eva Thomas: “When she was over, we would listen to music. Now, you know, I don’t listen to music anymore,” said her grandmother.
In her short time at Peru State, Ty Thomas started a dance troop, and her mother said her commitment to her friends in the group was on her mind the last time they spoke.
Thomas was planning to come home in Omaha for Christmas break the day after she disappeared. Her body has never been found.
Latayna said it feels as though something has stopped and never restarted.
Thomas: “It hurts so bad, not knowing where your child is. You don’t know if they are hurting. Where ever they are, you can’t get that closure to see them one more time.”
She said she wants Ty Thomas to be remembered. “She loved to laugh and we loved to laugh together.”
“She had a lot of spirit and, like her dad said, she had an opinion. Sometimes her opinion would clash with what I wanted her to do. Sometimes we fought, but she could come back so quick and be so loving.”
Powers asked the jury to let the family know that somebody listened about their daughter and six people they did not know cared about her.
Powers: “You may be the only people who will ever judge his acts. The only people who ever have the power to say to him (Keadle) we find what you did reprehensible.”
The verdict includes $80 million in a wrongful death, $100 million for pain and suffering caused by kidnapping, rape and murder and $30 million in emotional distress.
Powers said the sum is symbolic because it will never be paid, but said it means a lot to the family to have their day in court.