She rushed into the courtroom, sat in the front row and clutched the arm of her friend.
Tatiane Klein, whose family was slain in December 2009, motioned to a court-appointed Portuguese interpreter to speak loudly enough that she could hear the result of a three-week trial into the deaths of her mother, stepfather and 7-year-old brother.
As it turns out, she didn't need the translation.
“We the jury duly impaneled,” a clerk read, “ ... do find said defendant guilty ... ”
Klein popped slightly out of her seat, burst into tears, then buried her head into the sweater of her friend and wept. She barely listened as the clerk finished declaring Jose “Carlos” Oliveira-Coutinho guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her family.
The jury's verdicts — including their later finding that Oliveira should face a three-judge panel to decide whether he merits the death penalty — brought an end to an intense and often graphic three-week trial over the savage deaths of Vanderlei, Jaqueline and 7-year-old Christopher Szczepanik.
Klein, who sat through the death penalty phase of the case Friday, said she was both relieved and rattled by the guilty finding.
Furious over pay cuts, Oliveira directed two workers to beat Szczepanik to death, then hang Jaqueline and Christopher in the former South Omaha school the family had been renovating into a church missionary training center.
As the verdict was read, Oliveira gazed wide-eyed — his head partly shielded by the headphones he wore to hear the interpreters. He later rested his chin between his thumb and index finger, as if lost in thought.
Klein said Oliveira was like family — having lived with the Szczepaniks for years as Vanderlei Szczepanik's crew chief.
Klein said she has watched home videos of Oliveira celebrating with family at birthday parties. Her mother, Jaqueline, often referred to “Carlos” as her older son — and cooked and cleaned for him, Klein said.
Christopher adored Oliveira, giving him the nickname “Carlinhos,” or “Little Carlos.”
“It was like the ultimate betrayal,” Klein told The World-Herald, her Portuguese translated by a friend. “It was such a shock that Carlos was involved. Of the three, he was the most intimate one to my family.”
After three weeks of trial, the jury made short work of the case — deliberating just three hours before finding Oliveira guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of theft.
The jury made even shorter work of the penalty phase of the trial — ruling that three aggravating factors existed that could merit the death penalty: that there were multiple murders; that the murders were committed for financial gain; and that the murders were committed to cover up another crime. A three-judge panel later will determine whether he merits the death penalty.
“I know my family is with God,” Klein said. “We have won a battle; the war is not over.”
The case has some twists remaining. The second worker charged in the killings — Valdeir Goncalves-Santos — will be sentenced in December.
In return for his testimony, Goncalves is expected to receive a 20-year sentence — 10 years under state sentencing guidelines.
And the third worker charged in the killings — Elias Lourenco-Batista — is a free man, back in Brazil.
That has left Klein and two workers' wives — who traveled to the United States to testify against their husbands — afraid to go back to Brazil.
The Brazilian Constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens to face trials in foreign countries.
However, Brazilian officials have said that it is possible — though it's an expensive, extensive process — to have Lourenco tried in Brazil in connection with the crime.
Klein said she will continue her fight to have Lourenco returned to the U.S.
“I want him back here,” Klein said. “In Brazil, the longest sentence he could face is 30 years. He needs to be held responsible.”
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine agreed. He said his office didn't have enough evidence to charge Lourenco before he was deported — a decision that has been questioned by one defense attorney in the case.
Unlike Goncalves and Oliveira — who made incriminating comments to their wives — Kleine said police did not have any such evidence against Lourenco. “It wasn't enough to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. That prosecutors got to that point in Oliveira's case involved a “monumental effort,” he said.
During a trial in August 2011, prosecutors built a case against Goncalves on evidence that was scant at best. Beyond the wives' recounting of the workers' incriminating comments, they had evidence of the three workers using the family's credit cards and checks after the deaths.
In fact, prosecutors centered on the wrong crime scene in the first trial, believing the family may have been killed at a Park Avenue house that Szczepanik was renovating.
Then Goncalves — after hearing his wife's testimony — broke down in court. He stopped his trial, made a deal with prosecutors and took police through the killings and the real crime scene — the school the family was renovating.
He then led them to them to the point in the Missouri River where the men dumped the bodies. A year ago this month — after nearly two years that included a summer of record flooding — a Yutan Volunteer Fire Department diver uncovered Christopher's remains. Fifteen feet deep. Half-buried in the river bottom.
The discovery was both confounding and crushing. While his remains were minimal — skull and bones — an autopsy revealed the innocence lost. In Christopher's mouth, investigators found a baby tooth about to be dislodged by an adult tooth. Attached to his body, they found a Thomas the Tank Engine bed sheet — the same sheet the workers used to cover his head before hanging him.
A 35-year-old juror, the mother of three young children, said Friday evening that the trial was “heavy” — and will stick with her. The woman, who runs a day care center, said her children are 10, 8 and 6 years of age.
“I will never look at Thomas the Train the same way ever again,” she said. “I do have Thomas the Train things at home. I just want to throw it all away.”
The woman said she was the sole holdout in convicting Oliveira. She was intent on requiring that she be absolutely convinced he was guilty and considered the man not guilty through a couple hours of jury deliberations.
But as the jury reviewed evidence, she saw a photo of a man in a camouflage jacket with a patch on one shoulder at an ATM, removing money after the murder. A second photo, taken by Omaha police, showed Oliveira in an identical camouflage jacket.
“That's what did it for me,” said the juror, who spoke on condition that she not be identified.
Kleine called the case unspeakably sad. He credited the work of trial prosecutors Jim Masteller and John Alagaban and the case investigators — Omaha Police Sgt. Teresa Negron and detectives Chris Spencer and Robyn Bruning. He also credited the Brazilian women — the wives of Goncalves and Oliveira — who traveled from Brazil to Omaha to testify and hold their husbands accountable.
And he lauded Tatiane Klein's determination.
“It's been a long road for her,” Kleine said. “It's not over, either.”
Tatiane Klein said she realizes it may take another monumental effort to bring Lourenco to trial.
“But after what has happened with this case,” she said, “nothing is impossible.”
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