Seven years, six months.
That's how old Christopher Szczepanik was when three Brazilian workers killed him and his mother by hanging them in the South Omaha school where they lived.
Seven years, three months.
That's how much time one of those Brazilian workers likely has left in prison — after being sentenced Friday to the prosecutor-recommended mandatory minimum for second-degree murder.
With credit for time served and good behavior, Valdeir Goncalves-Santos will have just over seven years remaining on his 20-year sentence.
Attorneys acknowledged Friday that the sentence may not make sense when stacked against the grisliness of the family's deaths.
However, both prosecutor John Alagaban and defense attorney Kevin Ryan urged observers to view it through the justice Goncalves-Santos provided.
Goncalves-Santos “should be sentenced not for all of his horrible actions, but for all the justice that was created after he came forward,” Ryan said.
Until Goncalves-Santos broke down and offered to testify at the end of his own trial, prosecutors had “no DNA evidence, no blood evidence, no remains,” Alagaban said.
They also had no idea where the real crime scene was — having focused much of the trial on a Park Avenue apartment building the family was renovating.
After hearing his wife testify, Goncalves-Santos took authorities through the real crime scene — the former Paul VI High School in South Omaha — detailing how he and two fellow workers beat Vanderlei Szczepanik, their boss, to death. The workers then hanged Jaqueline and 7-year-old Christopher Szczepanik in a stairwell at the school.
Goncalves-Santos then testified against the man prosecutors say was the ringleader — Jose “Carlos” Oliveira-Coutinho — detailing how he and two other workers killed Vanderlei, Jaqueline and Christopher and dumped them in the Missouri River.
A jury convicted Oliveira-Coutinho last month of three counts of first-degree murder. He awaits a hearing before a three-judge panel that will determine whether he should receive the death penalty. The third worker, Elias Lourenco-Batista, was deported before authorities charged him in the deaths. Prosecutors are seeking to extradite him from Brazil — a longshot under Brazilian law.
Tatiane Klein, daughter of Jaqueline Szczepanik, approved of prosecutors' decision to plea bargain with Goncalves-Santos. She noted that without his direction, authorities wouldn't have found her little brother's remains in the river last year. And they may not have secured a conviction against Oliveira-Coutinho.
“It's still very hard,” she said. “I understand that if it wasn't for his cooperation, we wouldn't be here today.”
Ryan recounted the “one-of-a-kind” twists and turns the case took from the “remarkable moment” that Goncalves-Santos stopped his trial, just one day shy of completion. Ryan said Goncalves-Santos had a shot at acquittal. But he wasn't interested in that — or in a favorable sentence. In fact, just this past summer, the 30-year-old Goncalves-Santos said he expected to be in prison for the rest of his life.
“All Valdeir cared about was trying to tell the truth and trying to get some kind of justice for (Klein).” Ryan said. “For every person who told the county attorney’s office that a 20-year sentence was too light, I can assure you that there were several that told us we should have proceeded with the trial when there was so little physical evidence.”