Brian Smith

Brian Smith was convicted in Washington County and sentenced to life in prison on May 2, 1983. Smith, 16, kidnapped Mary Jo Hovendick, 21, with Dale Nollen. 

Same crime, same time.

A judge imposed the same sentence Monday on the second teenager who kidnapped, raped, tortured and terrorized a Blair woman, then sent her hurtling into the Missouri River.

Washington County District Judge John Samson sentenced Brian D. Smith, 49, on Monday to 90 years to life in prison for the Jan. 11, 1983, crime that led to the death of Mary Jo Hovendick. It was the same sentence given to Dale Nollen last month.

With credit for time already served, Smith and Nollen will be eligible for parole in 12 years. Absent parole, they cannot be released.

In an emotional statement, Smith sniffled back tears and told Hovendick’s family that any apology he could give would be empty.

“I am not a victim; Mary Jo Hovendick is a victim,” Smith told Samson. “Dale and I killed her for selfish reasons. At times I’ve thought, I can sit here and ask the Hovendicks for forgiveness.

“But I’ve accepted that our crimes are unforgivable. I’m tormented by the pain and shame. We took from Ms. Hovendick everything she was and everything she could ever become.”

As in most codefendant cases, Smith’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Pickens of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, spent considerable time trying to paint Smith’s accomplice as the ringleader.

Pickens argued that Nollen hatched the plan with the girlfriend of Smith’s brother. They both thought that the doughnut shop where Hovendick worked was an easy target.

Nollen grabbed a butcher knife and told Smith to grab the cash. He then led Hovendick out of the shop, covering her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. He was the first to sexually assault her.

“They show who is the dominant person in this (friendship),” Pickens said. “It’s very clear that Brian Smith is the follower here. Brian Smith goes along with everything that Dale Nollen told him to do.”

Pickens also noted a difference in their cases. Nollen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two weeks after the crime. Smith, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to kidnapping under a plea bargain.

Both crimes carried an automatic life sentence until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that judges must have the option of sentencing juvenile offenders to something other than just life sentences. Another U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbade automatic life sentences for juveniles who commit nonhomicide offenses.

Pickens said Smith has been a model inmate since he transferred to the Missouri prison system in 2000. He has participated in a program where inmates train service dogs.

Nollen also was lauded as a model inmate.

Prosecutor Corey O’Brien of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said the two men shared in the shame of their “selfish” acts.

O’Brien pointed out that Smith is the one who reached into the car, put it in gear and sent it hurtling into the Missouri River. Under the facts of this case, his conviction for kidnapping was tantamount to a conviction for murder.

He noted that Nollen and Smith spent hours in the basement of the doughnut shop, waiting to pounce on Hovendick, 21. The plan was to wait for the shop to close at 6 p.m. and then to rob her.

But as they waited, they talked about sexually assaulting her. Nollen in particular thought Hovendick would be a good victim because she was shy and he was sexually inexperienced — and she wouldn’t make fun of him.

They also agreed on something else: If they raped her, they would have to kill her.

Pickens argued that Nollen led the plan, led those conversations.

In a statement, Nollen had described the rapes and the attempts to kill Hovendick. He had planned to kill her by stabbing her. She was bound and in the back-seat of her car, on a dock by the Missouri River.

“She screamed and it scared me,” Nollen said then. “I could see she was terrified. I told her I was sorry ... I threw the knife in the river and (told Smith) ‘I cannot do this.’

“Brian shrugged and leaned into the car. The car jumped forward and I jumped back.”

Hovendick’s body would not be found until spring, near Fort Calhoun, south of Blair.

Monday, Hovendick’s sister, Melinda Kahlandt, again jumped back to that time 33 years ago when their lives were upended.

In a letter to the judge, Kahlandt wrote of a searing pain. Kahlandt noted that her mother became a widow at age 32. Mom lost Mary Jo when she was 41, Kahlandt wrote.

The pain is too difficult for Mary Jo’s mother and brother to put into words, Kahlandt wrote.

Tragically, Mary Jo would have been the most likely of the Hovendick children to comfort her mother, Kahlandt said. She was faithful and calm. She had gone to church the Sunday before her killing.

Kahlandt said her sister was kind, loving, compassionate, shy and peaceful. No matter how hard Kahlandt prodded, Mary Jo wouldn’t bite.

She had only two huge fears in life: knives and water.

“If only we could think of any good that has come out of her death,” Kahlandt wrote. “All I can think about is ... was she wondering where I was and why I didn’t come to help her? How could Smith and Nollen see the fear in her eyes and continue to torture her?

“Mary’s only mistake was being a good person. There’s still a big painful hole in our lives when we stop and think about what we missed and will continue to miss.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1275,

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